<- This is the prologue to ‘In Shengale Forest’, the first book in the ‘Prue Peppiatt’s Dreams’ series. On sale soon. Copyright to Amy Lisa Holmes at Alisah Creative ->
Ely held his breath, his eyes scanning the darkness. He could see nothing but moonlight striking shadows against the glistening cliff-face. But he knew they were there, coming closer. He could hear their careful footsteps, their halted breath.
The waves lapped against the rocks. The air was sticky, clinging to the skin and leaving behind a fine, salty coat. A muffled curse drifted across the water as the owner of the voice slipped upon the slimy ground, kicking a stone into a rock pool. The plop of the water echoed around the cave.
Ely tightened his grip on the hilt of his sword, his heart pumping faster as the moment of reckoning approached. They wouldn’t get away with it this time, not on his watch. Any moment now they would turn the corner and he would see their faces for the first time; the miscreants who had been stealing from King and Crown.
The moonlight glared upon them as they came into view, lighting up their features. A sorry looking bunch: their hair was far too long for polite company and between the dozen of them was sported a vast collection of scars and bandages which were barely covered by the stained, ripped cloth upon their backs. No better than pirates, although what they got up to at sea, Ely could only guess at. His father had never said much about pirates.
Ely turned to look at the men who had joined him in the defence of the town and treasure; fishermen, a blacksmith, farmers, an innkeeper, several barmen – none of them bred for battle, but a battle was what he was about to give them.
“Wait for them to approach the chest,” Ely whispered, “then we’ll let them have it.”
The men grinned, several showing blackened teeth. Ely cringed inwardly; these weren’t his usual comrades-in-arms. He knew they were out for blood tonight, driven to desperate measures to stand up for what was theirs. For too long the townspeople had lived in fear of the smugglers; avoiding the cave that harboured stolen goods, for fear that they would go missing, as many men had. Too many husbands and sons had disappeared after curiosity led them to the cave. Too often, their town had been looted by these fortune-hunters and now their families were after revenge. And Ely, well, he wanted to prove a point to his father; that he was good enough to lead a battle.
The smugglers loomed up, their hulking shadows creeping up the walls of the cave. As they stood at the entrance the moonlight was blocked from view and so, darkness stole over Ely and his men. Excitement burst through Ely’s chest and spread through his bones, filling him with a heady feeling. He steadied his breathing, trying to calm the erratic beating of his heart. This was it. The smugglers stood around the chest and one of them stooped to pull it open. It was now or never. Ely gave the signal and jumped out from behind his rock.
With a roar, the rest of the men followed suit, quickly surrounding the smugglers. Shock and horror shone on the faces of their victims, but Ely’s men did not hold the advantage of surprise for long. Their makeshift weapons of pitchforks and steel pokers were no match for the swords of the smugglers and within moments, the attackers became the attacked. The smugglers fought with a fury, hacking down the spade of a farmer and the hammer of the blacksmith. They were used to fighting dirty. The farmers and fishermen, the blacksmith and the barmen quickly surrendered and backed away, giving in to the shift of power.
But Ely didn’t notice. He was locked in a fight with a brute of a man, whose strength and prowess with the sword was becoming Ely’s undoing. The force of every clash shuddered up his sword into his body, making him weaker with each blow. Breathing hard, his mind a blur, Ely slashed his sword wildly, forgetting his lessons in control. His combatant yelled as the sword sliced him beneath the eye. Blood poured from the wound, making him look even more dangerous. It was only a flesh wound, but it was enough to make him angry. Roaring like a rhino, he struck out, aiming for Ely’s neck. Ely threw his sword up just in time, but the blow was so powerful that his knees buckled. Desperation made his arms strong, keeping the striking blade away from his neck, but only by inches.
His assailant grinned and pushed harder with his sword, bearing down on Ely. Gradually, Ely’s arms weakened. This man was just too heavy, too strong. The man leaned his bloody face closer, leering. Then, still holding his blade to Ely’s throat, the brute drew back a fist and punched Ely in the jaw. Ely stumbled but regained his footing. He blinked through the pain which was shooting through his face. The sharp, metallic taste of blood filled his mouth. Sweat rolled down his forehead and into his eyes, stinging, blinding. This was it. This was how he was going to die. As if to agree, his attacker moved forward, raising his sword to deliver one last, fatal blow. There was a roaring in Ely’s ears, no longer the roaring of the sea. It was death, making its claim.
But it wasn’t death. The roaring grew louder, surrounding him, lifting him. His attacker seemed to hear it too, for he looked up, fear in his eyes. Then suddenly, he stumbled and fell to his knees, his sword clattering to the floor. Ely staggered back and looked down at his attacker. As he watched, a dark stain bloomed like a flowering rose across the top of his shirt, the quiver of an arrow trembling in its centre.
Ely sagged with relief, before realising he might be in yet more danger. Where had the arrow come from? He turned around. The cave was full of men, fighting. And the great roaring noise filling his eardrums came from the clashing of sword on sword and man shouting at man. But it wasn’t just the men from the village fighting the smugglers, no. The cave had filled up in the last few moments; they had been joined by men in uniform. The King’s Men had arrived.
That was his cue to leave. They had everything in hand. None of the men from the town appeared to have been harmed. It had turned out beautifully, but for the slight complication that his plan had almost failed. But no matter, he was still learning. And he had to escape before the soldiers realised he was there.
He edged around the outskirts of the battle, pausing only to assist the soldiers when the fight wasn’t going their way. He cut down three smugglers, but with each soldier he rescued, he risked drawing attention to himself. No, he had to leave. Already the battle was slowing down. More and more soldiers were turning his way, peering into his face, some of them even gawping. One man took a step towards him, recognition lighting up his eyes. Abandoning all pretence, Ely put his head down and ran towards the passage that led back to the village, back to his horse.
“Stop him!” someone shouted. “That’s him, Captain Watson!”
Footsteps thundered up the passageway, laboured breathing growing louder. Ely lengthened his stride, cursing his wretched luck. He thought he had shaken them off two towns’ back. How had they found him? Damn their trackers; they had been trained well.
His horse , Lunar, was waiting at the end of the passage, saddled up and ready for a quick getaway. At least he’d had the foresight to plan that far ahead, despite everything else that had gone wrong. Lunar whickered in greeting and he leaped onto her back. She was off and away within a heartbeat. When his pursuers reached the end of the passage, all they could see was dust.
“Darn it,” one of the soldiers spat, “Captain Watson ain’t gonna be happy that we lost him again.”
“He ain’t half a wily one,” said the other.
“I bet I know where he’s going though,” the first one grinned.
“Oh yeah,” his friend raised an eyebrow, “and where’s that then?”
“That road he’s on,” the soldier pointed at the spiralling dirt track, in the direction of distant mountains, “it goes through Alaric Valley, right into Shengale Forest.”
- By Amy Lisa Holmes at Alisah Creative
<- This is the prologue to ‘In Shengale Forest’, the first book in the ‘Prue Peppiatt’s Dreams’ series. On sale soon. Read the second extract here and the third here. Copyright to Amy Lisa Holmes at Alisah Creative ->