January 9, 2015

Ch 1 Excerpt from "The Woman of the West" Historical Fantasy Novel

This is an updated draft of my first chapter. There is still work to be done but it is far better than the version that I have previously posted. The blue portion is what I am considering deleting or trying to reincorporate elsewhere.  

Outside the sun was blistering. With the heat of too many sweaty bodies piled in one room and the stale scent of blood and wet dirt in the air, the underground fighting rings matched if not exceeded the scorching temperatures up above.

Vladonik knew he could not afford to lose this fight. He had to win or his loan would not be repaid. The family lands would be lost. His brother might starve. And for the sake of his pride, even worse, he would prove that his father was right. His father, Sven Svanek, had warned him not to accept money from the men in the city just as he had later warned Vladonik not to fight in order to repay it. But of course he would not listen. And as he took a beating in the ring, he wondered why he had not understood his father’s logic sooner. He had been a fool. But it was not too late to redeem himself. He could not lose. Not again. And so, it was with this thought that the young man, Vladonik, was able to summon courage the depths of his soul and in it, to find the motivation he needed to continue.

A mixture of blood and sweat seeped from Vladonik’s black hair and down his forehead as he struggled to regain his balance. Sweat glistened on his bronze skin as thin rays of sunlight filtered through the tiny slitted windows along the top of the walls. With his back to the crowd, Vladonik stumbled, trying to find his footing.

The young man opposite of him was was Crispin, a new acquaintance he had met scarcely a week prior. He was thin and wiry but what he lacked in size, he made up for in speed and precision. Vladonik liked him. He knew that in a different time and place, under different circumstances, they probably would have been friends. But not this day. Not right there. Not at that moment.

Another blow landed upon Vladonik’s face before he could manage to raise his hands and block it. He stumbled again. The crowd roared. His feet were heavy and moved as if he were knee deep and running in sand. He toppled over.

His reflexes were fast, perhaps to a fault. Vladonik’s arm jolted out to soften his blow. But as he fell forward, the weight of his body landed upon his wrist which twisted as he slammed into the bloody dirt. Vladonik gritted his teeth and muffled a cry. He was sure his left wrist was broken but he was not out yet. After all, he was right handed.

Crispin stood over him, grinning stupidly as the crowd cheered him on. He had seen the pain in Vladonik’s face as he suffered from the fall but he did not appear to be capitalizing on the opportunity that had presented itself.Then suddenly, the situation was reversed. It was quick. Even the crowd had not expected such a turn of events.

Crispin was still standing with a foolish grin when Vladonik' fingers wraped his hands around his ankles and pull him to the ground. Unlike Vladonik, Crispin’s hands did not jut out to soften his fall. His wiry arms flailed for the two seconds it took before he slammed against the dirt. He hit the floor head first and did nothing to stifle his screams.

Vladonik crawled away and managed to stand once more. His chest heaved. His heart raced. He was determined to win.

Cripsin forced his body upright as well. He seemed shocked by the pain that emanated from his nose. For the briefest second, Crispin paused to catch his breath. The timing was perfect. A single hit was all it took for the scraggly young man to freeze – a standing target. Vladonik struck him hard across the face. Taking care to use only his right hand, he hit Crispin repeatedly until the thin man’s bony nose cracked and seeped scarlet colored blood upon his partially parted and gasping lips. As the young man’s spidery fingers were instinctively raised to his face, he left the trunk of his body unprotected.

The two young men were exhausted. The fight was clearly close to ending and it appeared that Vladonik would win. But Vladonik, in his haste, made a horrible mistake. He lunged forward too quickly. His ankle rolled and twisted beneath him and he began to topple over once more. Vladonik gritted his teeth, to hide the pain, in case Crispin had not noticed. He feared that crying out, as he so desperately wanted to, would alert Crispin to his injured leg. He had managed to break Crispin’s nose despite his injured wrist but an injured leg was virtually fatal. He knew this would likely cost him the match.

But, suffering through his own painful injuries, Crispin had not even noticed. He was still holding a defensive position. But in a hasty attempt to block his face, Crispin forgot to lean forward and block his stomach. He was tired and distracted and it showed. At that moment, Vladonik knew exactly how he would win. Before he could make his move, however, Crispin caught him by surprise. Vladonik curled up, carefully shifting the pressure off his sore ankle, taking a beating as he waited for the perfect moment to strike.

Without warning, his fist came up and forced Crispin’s head back. It was exactly as Vladonik had predicted. Crispin, with his nose already broken, reached for his face once more virtually handing Vladonik a priceless opportunity. Vlad struck him in the chest and abdomen. With the wind knocked out of him, Crispin slouched over and clutched his stomach tightly. As he stumbled forward a few steps trying to take a breath, Vladonik hit him in the face again. The thin young man fell upon the muddy floor screaming and writhing in pain between labored breaths. With ruthless bloodlust, the small crowd, now riled, began callous chants of “Finish him!” It was already clear that Vladonik had won. Crispin would not be able to get up even if he had so desired. Yet nobody called the match. All around him, the only thing shouted were cries alternating between “kill the kid” and “finish him.” Truly, there was no need for Vladonik to continue. Reynard Ehkran, the owner of the ring and master of the fights, met Vladonik’s reluctant gaze as he nodded expectantly for him to comply with the crowd’s wishes. There was no place for mercy in the Thralian Fights—least of all when the crowd begged for more.

Vladonik hesitated. He knew that it was wrong. But he also knew it had to be done in order to receive his money this afternoon. He prayed that his god would understand and excuse his excess for the sake of the situation which had risen. It was beyond his control, or so the young man told himself. Peering down at the young man, whose blood had now begun to pool on the damp earth beneath their tired feet, Vlad mustered the courage to do what was being asked of him. After all, he tried to reason with himself, the spectators had come expecting to see the beast.

He let out a fierce cry as he brought his fists down upon Crispin. Vladonik hit him over and over again, praying his opponent would give up soon. Finally, Crispin’s body went limp—he had been rendered unconscious. Vlad stood, slowly raising his aching arms victoriously above his head. He forced his lips to turn upward into a large grin though he would have much rather cried. The pain was overwhelming, a throbbing face, bruised skin, a dull pain emanating from his knuckles, his twisted ankle and the severe, perhaps even permanent damage which he had savagely dealt to his opponent for the trivial pleasures of the crowd and his boss, Ehkran the Pugilist.

Reynard came over and patted Vlad’s back; he smiled at the crowd as if the outcome had been his own doing. He leaned in and quietly stated “Well done, lad. Well done indeed.” The fat man, a former fighter, the so-called patron and master of the Thralian Fights was quite pleased that Vladonik had taken the cue and given the crowd an entertaining fight. Vladonik was filled with an odd mixture of rage and pride...

To read more about my plans for this series, see my Books in Progress page. 


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