Saturday, December 13, 2008

Teaser - Men of Twelve Chapt 5, Scene 5

From the draft of my novel in progress Excerpt from The Men of Twelve Chapter 5, scene 9 By L. V. Gaudet © January 2007 Started writing Jan 16/07 Riding beside him, Sir Erskine was about to say something when he was abruptly cut off by a shrill cry similar to the one they had heard before. He spun in his saddle looking around for the source of the cry, but it was impossible to see anything in the impenetrable darkness. Sounds of a scuffle came to them from the front of the line; splashing, a horse neighing, a muffled shout. “We’re under atta-,” someone shouted and was cut off abruptly with a dull thud as of a large heavy body hitting another. Another shrill cry pierced the night air. Eyvindr and Erskine pulled their swords from their scabbards as Yngling and Ceadda splashed up behind them on their horse and pony. The four of them looked about with swords drawn, looking for an enemy to fight. Picking up the men’s excitement, the horses pricked their ears, looking about warily, dancing with their own anticipation of action to come. At the front of the line, Ranald and Aelric rode side by side, eyes scanning the darkness warily. Behind them Findlay and Griogair rode in silence, Griogair nodding off with the rocking motion of his horse. His head snapped up with the first shrieking cry that pierced the night, looking around startled. His horse bobbed its head nervously, making throat clearing noises deep in its chest. From out of the darkness came a noise as of feet running on the soft boggy ground. It grew louder, closer, and suddenly looming from out of the darkness was a great beast rearing up on hind legs, charging, launching itself through the air as it leapt to tackle Aelric astride his horse. It looked like a great slender cat, a cross between a jaguar and a cheetah, yet at the same time strangely human-like. The creatures mouth was yawned wide open in a snarling grimace like a big cat, showing off long sharp pointed teeth with even longer canines. A shriek pierced the air, coming from high in the creature’s throat just before it collided with Aelric, knocking him off his horse to wrestle in the stream bed. Aelric’s horse shied from the attack, dancing back in time to lessen the blow of the flying tackle. When Aelric splashed into the water of the stream, he’d had the wind knocked from him and was red-faced gasping for air, but he wasn’t dazed. He grappled the creature in a great bear hug, holding it tight against him to prevent it from biting and clawing him. The creature’s large paws had great sharp claws that could tear a man apart with a single swipe. Aelric let out a muffled shout as he rolled and wrestled with the creature. When the creature collided with the man and horse, the horse spun at it, trying to bite the creature with sharp teeth, just catching one heel with sharp teeth as the creature and rider tumbled down the other side of the horse. The creature didn’t seem to notice the bloody injury. Aelric’s grey horse danced sideways away from the two rolling and wrestling in the water of the stream. At the moment the creature appeared in the darkness, Ranald turned in surprise, reaching for his sword in its scabbard. Just as it was launching through the air at Aelric, Ranald spun in his saddle, sword in hand, ready. “We’re under atta-,” Aelfred started to shout, only to be suddenly cut off when a large solid body materialized from nowhere, colliding very solidly with him and his horse. The impact knocked the horse sideways, its hooves scrabbling for purchase before it fell heavily to the water of the stream. Aelfred fell from the horse and rolled, coming up empty handed and crouching, looking around warily. From behind another creature appeared sprinting from the darkness, tackling him to the ground, tearing at him with sharp pointed teeth and claws. He struggled vainly to reach for the sword that was too far away in its scabbard lashed to the fallen horse’s saddle. The horse kicked and squirmed, rolling itself over, kicking and biting at the creature attacking it with sharp teeth and hooves. Before the creature could dismember Aelfred, it suddenly stiffened with a pained look in its eyes. It dropped limply to the ground to reveal a grinning Sioltach, bloodied sword in hand. “You might need one of these,” Sioltach grinned, gesturing with his sword. Sore but otherwise uninjured, Aelfred got to his feet and limped over to his horse now standing not far away, and pulled his sword a little belatedly from its scabbard. The moon slipped out from behind the clouds again, straining to wash the land in its pale cold light. Jaws dropped. The men looked about them, eyes wide with shock. The narrow strip of land between the trees was teeming with these creatures. Most of them stayed back somewhat from the ribboning streams. Some of them watched the men and horses in the stream with bland curiosity, others approached warily. Most ignored the men and horses completely, as if they were beneath their notice. It was apparent these creatures walked on two legs like men, not on all fours as the great cats they so closely resemble do. They were larger than the men. One creature ran up in a half crouch, stopping to stare down at the fallen creature that had been impaled from behind. It sniffed the air, cocking its head. Its eyes blazed with anger. Slowly looking up, the creature opened its mouth wide, baring its sharp pointed teeth in a grimace, and slowly turning its head it let loose an ear piercing high shriek. Heads popped up in the teeming mass of creatures, turning to look. The creature turned its head to stare at Sioltach, hissing terribly at him. Another creature shrieked, then another, then another. Before long the air was shattered with a tumultuous song of high angry shrieks. “Run!” Ranald roared. They ran, mounted or not. The creatures sprinted after them en-masse. The moon slipped behind the clouds again, dropping the curtain of blackness on the scene once again. Little could be seen in the dark of night, glimpses of thrashing fighting bodies, swinging swords, snarling lips drawn past sharp teeth. It soon became apparent that these creatures were not so cat-like. But rather, their faces were deformed with formed dried mud and grass. Their bodies covered with the skins of slain large predatory cats, the sharp clawed paws worn like gloves by those that travelled on the outer edges of the mob, ready to fight to protect their clan. The teeth, however, were very real. It would be a miracle indeed if the king and his men would all survive this terrible onslaught.

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