We’re a little less than two weeks away from the publication date of my new adult fantasy, Asta and the Barbarians! You’re probably not nearly as stoked as I am but that’s okay. You just need another excerpt to get you interested. *wink wink* Here’s chapter two! Links to preorder will be available at the bottom of the page for anyone who’s interested. Thanks for stopping by!
They came for me at dusk. I hadn’t attended the beginners’ classes as I was instructed. I had been warned of the consequences. Now, they were going to deliver. I had cried so much that day. I didn’t have the strength to be afraid. My guards watched the two members of the academy’s security team escort me down the hall. Heads poked out of the rooms. Soon we had a group of followers, students anxious to witness the first whipping of the general’s precious miracle. Down the stairs, out of the building, across the square, to the whipping post we went. They chained my hands to the post and retreated. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the young warriors gather. Some cheered. Some sneered insults my way.
Viggo stood at the front and smirked, arms crossed. And some simply peeked out of their bedroom windows. I recognized the sensible friend of that damned Viggo, watching from a second-story window. He was lean but strong, with a bushel of curly black hair. He leaned forward with his palms against his writing desk and looked down at me, brow furrowed in anxiety.
The director walked into my line of sight, dragging a cat-of-nine-tails behind him. Nails, bits of broken glass, jagged blades, and fish hooks had been attached to the ends of each tail. I stared at the thick splintery post before me and braced myself. There was a crack and then I was struck. The impact sent me to my knees. Countless bites of pain sank into my flesh. I grunted but didn’t cry out. Shutting my eyes, I leaned my forehead against the wood and took a deep breath. Then the director jerked the whip back. The tearing of clothing, skin, and muscle was audible.
The pain was excruciating. I screamed loud enough to sear my throat. Blood poured
down my backside and splashed against my calves. It was not so dissimilar from the blood that ran while the general tortured me. Instead of imagining I was in a different place as I did back then, I allowed the pain to rob me of my will to live. There was a second crack of the whip. Now that my nerves were exposed, the sharp ends sank in and took hold. I couldn’t breathe. The director tugged three times before the whip came free.
I trembled and let out a sob. The shouts and laughter of the spectators were blotted out by my heartbeat, pounding loudly in my sensitive ears. My vision began to fade. The third time those tails bit into my flesh, a sharp piece of something embedded itself at the nape of my neck. When the whip was pulled back, I felt the piece scrape against bone. I leaned heavily against the post, the splinters biting into my face. It didn’t matter. My back…
I’m coming, Mother, Father, Sylvi…
But death didn’t come. The whip didn’t strike a fourth time. The director shouted at the crowd to go back inside. My guards were given permission to unchain me. They carried me to my room and tossed me onto the bed, jarring every bone in my back. I pressed my face into the pillow and screamed.
“Let that be a lesson to you,” one of my guards said over my yells. “The number of lashes will increase if you decide to skip your classes a second time—and don’t think we’ve forgotten to tell the director about your death wish. He has half of the security team watching this building, your window especially.”
The door slammed shut and I was left to bleed alone.
“Father,” I said. “I’m sorry.”
My father seethed. “Sorry? The groundskeeper caught you in the cemetery with the stable boy, and you’re sorry?”
I rolled my eyes. “It was just a dare. Nothing happened.”
“You know it hasn’t been easy to arrange a suitable marriage for you,” my father growled as he paced the length of his study. “And now that I’ve finally found an honorable man who is willing to take you…” He rounded on me, dark eyes narrowed. “Do you think Kustaav will still want you after this story gets out?”
I leapt from the chair. “I don’t care if Kustaav still wants me! I’m not property to be signed and shaken hands over. I should have an opinion as to who I spend the rest of my life with.”
My father rose to his full height. “Your mother was married to me on her father’s command. Your friend Irma was married to that blacksmith one town over. Your sister is to be married to Torsten in three weeks. Every woman in this county marries who their fathers choose. What is so special about you that you alone are allowed an opinion in this matter?”
I opened my mouth to speak, but he continued before I could reply.
“Is it because your foolish father overlooked tradition and allowed you to attend school after the age of sixteen? Is it because your father looked the other way when you secretly began taking fencing lessons? Could it be that, by ignoring your lack of propriety, I made you believe you would be exempt from every rule of society?” My father snorted. “Well, I’m sorry but you are gravely mistaken.”
I clenched my jaw when my world grew misty.
My father ran a hand through his thinning hair and took a deep breath. “I’m going to speak to the stable boy tomorrow. He will no longer be a member of our household staff. He is never to talk to you again and you are never to seek him out.”
“His name is Fiske,” I said. “And he’s my friend.”
“I will smother any rumors that spread because of your thoughtlessness and beg Kustaav to take you,” my father said as if I hadn’t spoken. “You will personally apologize and assure him that you are still a virgin. You two will be married by next spring and you will no longer be my burden.”
I reared back as if I’d been slapped. “Is that all I am to you? A burden?”
The church bells tolled. My innards tightened. My father walked around his desk, eyes dark with worry. He yanked the curtains of the window aside and looked out. The study door burst open to reveal Sylvi and my mother.
“It’s happened, Canute,” my mother said, her voice choked by fear. “Heaven help
My father ambled toward them. “You know the plan. Pack only the essentials and head for the capitol.” My mother and sister made way for him to pass. He fetched the crossbow from its hooks on the wall and turned to give us a grim look. “Ride hard.”
Mother threw her arms around him. “Take care of yourself!”
“I will. I love you, Aulin.” He gave Sylvi a kiss on the forehead. “Be strong and take care of your mother.”
“Yes, Father,” she whimpered.
He turned to me but I refused to meet his gaze. “We will meet again.” Then he was gone.
My mother sobbed in the seat across from mine, red-brown curls bouncing over her shoulder slightly with every hiccup. Sylvi patted her back and murmured that Father would be all right. I leaned against the carriage’s small window, hoping to catch a glimpse of our home. I could hear the screams of panic as we thundered down the street. Our coachmen shouted at the horses. My town…I wanted to look away, but all I could do was gawk. Kenshore was being pillaged and burned. My people fled, taking only what they could carry with them. Some galloped beside us on horses. Some clutched their children to their chests and ran. And still the barbarian raiders gained on them.
The men of our town had been training since word of the crusade reached us five years ago. Traps had been set, weapons had been distributed, plans had been made. How were these foreign warriors already running rampant through our streets? Could it be that the rumors of their invincibility were true? Buildings burned. Swords sliced the air. Men were slaughtered in the streets. Women were dragged by their hair behind houses and into dark corners. Children were cut down where they stood without hesitation. I slapped a hand over my mouth to keep from vomiting.
Something struck the side of our carriage. The door I leaned against was thrown open and I was ejected into the horde of people with a shout.
Men with eyes that glowed like liquid copper surrounded me when I woke. Men dressed in strange, form-fitting armor and carrying all manner of sharp weapons. I scrambled to my feet, tripping on the frayed trim of my dress and hastily brushing the hair out of my face. Their looks of hunger and vicious glee were replaced by shock and surprise.
“Gosta,” one murmured to his neighbor. “Look at her eyes.”
“You can still have her, Gosta,” another jeered. “The general need not know.”
My heart hammered painfully against my ribs. Were brown eyes special on their island? Could my eyes somehow save me?
The one called Gosta grimaced in disappointment. “The general always knows. Grab her.”
“It’s called medicine,” said a sarcastic voice from the other side of my door. “It will help dull the pain. It might even help her heal faster. I’m sure my father wants her in class as soon as possible. How do you think he’ll react when he hears you turned me away?”
“She’ll heal quickly enough,” one of my guards grunted. “She doesn’t need your medicine.”
“And if she has broken bones? If there has been lasting damage done to her spine? If an infection has spread? We’re impervious to most illnesses, but we aren’t completely immune. A physician has never set foot on the academy grounds. My father isn’t going to call one now, not even for Dotharr’s Miracle. I’ve helped numerous other warriors-in-training who have faced the whipping post. I’m the closest thing to a doctor she’s ever going to see.”
There was a moment of silence while the guards deliberated.
“The director already gave us permission,” another voice muttered.
The door opened.
I bolted upright in bed only to crumple back against the bloody sheets with a cry of agony.
Viggo and his sensible friend entered the room. I didn’t have the energy to be surprised, much less speak.
“I was handling it,” the young man whose name I didn’t know said under his breath.
“You were taking too long,” Viggo retorted.
I writhed in pain for a moment and curled up in a ball. “Go away.”
“As you wish,” Viggo said, stepping back.
His friend gave him a look of disapproval before smiling at me. “My name is Bryn. I’m an aspiring doctor, despite my glowing eyes. I can help you if you let me.”
“It doesn’t matter,” I sobbed. “I just want to die.”
Viggo rolled his eyes, but received an elbow to the gut before he could comment.
“Nobody is dying,” Bryn said. “At least not today.”
“It reeks in here,” Viggo grumbled. He stalked over to the window and yanked it open.
Bryn sat beside me on the bed and opened his satchel. “If it bothers you so much, why don’t you track down someone from Housekeeping and request some fresh bed sheets?”
“I’m not your errand boy!” Viggo snapped.
Bryn produced a rag, then continued rummaging through his bag. “Or you can stay here and breathe in the lovely smell of blood and oozing wounds. Do what you wish.”
Viggo simmered while Bryn selected a bottle and set his satchel aside. The aspiring doctor poured green liquid from the bottle over the rag before turning to me. “I need you to turn onto your stomach if you’re able.”
“It hurts to move,” I said with a sniffle.
Viggo threw his hands in the air and marched out of the room, grumbling under his breath.
“I’ll do what I can from this angle then,” Bryn said, then gently pressed the damp rag into my shoulder.
I bit my lips but still let out a whimper.
“I’m sorry. This will sting initially, but it will kick in after a few minutes.”
I shut my eyes and let the darkness take me.
I woke to an exasperated grunt. “You think your father will let you become a doctor after all our hard work?”
“All of my hard work, you mean?” It sounded as if Bryn were fighting a smile.
“Yes, of course, your hard work. You could graduate in six months’ time if you did as you were told and dedicated yourself to your courses. Is that not what you want? To be rid of this place?” Viggo asked.
There was no more pain. I opened my eyes to find myself facing the legs of my writing desk. I lay on my stomach on the floor, in nothing but my undergarments. My cheek was pressed against a blanket. Bryn worked somewhere behind me. I could feel the warmth of him against my sensitive back.
“I want the freedom to make my own future.” A substance of some kind crinkled like paper pinched or rubbed between two fingers. Something clinked against glass. Maybe a spoon stirring a liquid mixture in a bottle? “Once the stamp of this academy is added to my record, the only occupation I will ever be considered for is that of a soldier,” Bryn continued. “I can’t be admitted into Ishem’s School of Science until my father expels me.”
“So the past month of training was for nothing?”
“It appears that way, yes.”
Viggo sighed in frustration, but there was sadness in his voice when he spoke. “Why are you so intent on ending our friendship?”
Bryn laughed. “Your friendship I will keep until death, but this isn’t my calling. I know where I truly belong.”
“Blasphemer,” Viggo said, although the insult sounded half-hearted.
“Puritan,” Bryn shot back.
Viggo chuckled, but it was cut off. “What was Dotharr thinking, sending a woman to the general? Warriors are always men.”
Liquid was poured out of something. I could hear the rush of water as it slid through a funnel. Then the squishing of wet fabric and the dripping of excess water. The smell of herbs drifted through the air. “Now who is the blasphemer? Maybe that’s why Dotharr chose her. The best warrior is the one no one expects.”
Viggo scoffed. “She won’t last three days here.”
“I’ll take that bet,” Bryn said. “A day on the grounds and she’s already broken the rules. She has more spirit than you give her credit for.”
“Says the man tending so dutifully to her wounds,” Viggo said. “Having spirit does not mean she’s capable of completing the courses.”
“We’ll see.” A shuffle of movement, a shadow on the floor beside me, drawing
I lifted my head and turned to face him.
“Hello,” he said, perking up in surprise. “How are you feeling?”
“Yes,” he said with a nod. “That’s something. You slept through the night and most of today. Your wounds have sealed. You should be developing scabs by tomorrow evening.”
“Why did you help me?” I asked. “I have nothing to give in return. You must have known that.”
Bryn smiled softly. “A very wise woman once said, ‘A world without kindness is a dark and hopeless place.’ And that isn’t the kind of world I wish to live in.”
My eyes stung with the coming of new tears.
Viggo rolled his eyes and turned to leave. “I’ll see you at dinner, Bryn.”
“Until then,” Bryn said over his shoulder. His glowing eyes fell on my face again. “What’s your name?”
“I would like to hear your story, if you are willing and able to tell it, Asta.”
I rubbed my face against the blanket. “You won’t like it.”
“We are rarely fond of the truth,” Bryn said with a shrug. “Tell me anyway.”