Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Wounded Guardian DVD extras 1

A little while ago, I suggested books should be more like DVDs, in that they could feature deleted scenes.
This is the first of several major scenes that were sliced in the editing process. It was initially written to give Merren and Karia time to get to know each other, while Martil was out wearing down Havrick's forces. It was also part of my general desire to write a book where the hero does not wave a magic sword, immediately create an army and march to victory.
But, honestly, I don't think the book lost anything by this sequence being erased.
Still, I'd like to know your thoughts!
PS: This is not quite the finished version, so if there are errors, they are entirely my fault!


SERGEANT Errec spat as he waved his men forward. The few game trails around here never seemed to go in the right direction, so more often than not, he had to have three men up front, blunting their swords by trying to cut through the undergrowth. Luckily the woods were relatively open, the bushes barely taller than knee high, but still it took plenty of effort to force a passage and Errec knew they had to be wasting their time.
No way could 50 men and horses move through here without leaving some sort of sign. But he had his orders, and he knew the consequences of disobeying them. His was the last group in the line, the one he felt was least likely to come across anything, but he was still ready in case his old friend sergeant Porrit, who led the next group in, found anything. Errec had been a soldier for nearly 20 years and felt strange about this whole exercise. He had signed up to fight against Berellians, Avish and Tetrans, not his own people. He knew Wime was among the so-called rebels, and he was a decent man. But he trusted his officers when they said these rebels had to be stopped before the army would get its chance to take care of the other countries. And he believed Duke Gello when he said how Norstalos was going to be the greatest country in the world. The Duke would lead them to victory and riches. Give them something to look forward to, not just guard duty and breaking a few goblin heads.
He spat again, watching the slow progress of his trail-breakers up a slope, where the bushes seemed to cluster thickly.
`Hurry it up!’ he roared.
`We’re trying, sarge!’ one called back.
He snorted. They weren’t trying hard enough for his liking. Then he grunted and took a step backwards. It felt as though someone had thrown a rock at him, striking him in the middle of his chest. He looked down, ready to yell at the joker who had done that, but was astonished to discover the feathers of an arrow jutting out, just beside his sternum. He touched them, just to see they were real, and thought about yelling a warning, but he suddenly had no breath. Around him he could hear shouts and screams, and the hissing of arrows, followed by the meaty thump as they struck home. He dimly registered he should be doing something to protect his men. There had been an order, or some such, about sounding a warning horn? He thought he would walk over and talk to his trumpeter, but found himself sitting on the ground instead.
Just a quick lie-down, he thought, then I’ll have the energy to tell people what to do. He fell backwards and found the leaf litter strangely comforting. He sank into it.
- - - -
MARTIL watched Tarik and his archers drive the soldiers into cover, splitting them up and picking off any who showed an inclination to fight back. Half were down, including the sergeant and the trumpeter, and the rest were more concerned with staying out of sight and in cover than trying to link up.
Martil waved to the militia and guardsmen he had with him, on the soldiers’ flank.
`Come on!’ he roared, and led the charge in.
The arrows stopped, but before the soldiers could do more than stand up, Martil and the others were upon them. One man lunged at Martil, and received the Dragon Sword through his chest as a riposte, then Rocus and the others swarmed over the rest. Martil looked around for anyone else but there were only dead and wounded soldiers, as well as a pair who had been belted over the head with the flat of blades or the full face of a shield.
`Quick now! Take their weapons and be ready to march! Wime, find me a wounded man who can talk!’
Martil inspected the site with satisfaction. Not one of his men had been even hurt, while two squads of Havrick’s soldiers had been wiped out.
`Captain! Over here!’ Wime shouted and Martil hurried over to find the trumpeter propped against a tree, an arrow high in his chest and another in his gut that would kill him before the day was out.
`Listen to me. What are the calls for being under attack, and how do you talk to the other groups?’ Martil demanded. `Tell me and I’ll end your pain quickly.’
The man just moaned back at him, so Martil reached down and took hold of the shaft deep in the man’s stomach.
`Talk to me, or I’ll rip this out, slowly,’ he growled.
The man’s eyes widened and his breath came in short gasps as he felt the pressure on the arrowhead lodged deep in his stomach.
`Captain!’ Wime gasped.
`We have to know. Victory is the only thing that matters,’ Martil said softly, his eyes on the trumpeter’s face.
`Tell me, and I’ll have our wizard come and look at you,’ he told the man. `Refuse to answer and your last hours will be spent screaming.’
`One blast every hour to let them know our position, four blasts to call for help,’ the man moaned.
Martil let go of the arrow and stood.
`Barrett! Can you do anything for this man?’ he shouted.
Barrett walked over and looked down at the moaning, sweating, trumpeter. `I’m not a priest,’ he snapped. `Only Aroaril could save this man now.’
Martil turned back to the wounded man.
`I’m sorry, but you heard the wizard,’ he said softly, drawing the Dragon Sword and placing it on the man’s thigh. He carefully opened the main artery at the top of the leg as he talked. `There was no way to save you. But I thank you for your information. And I have made sure you will not suffer in pain.’
The man’s head sagged forward and Martil stepped away, sheathing the unmarked Dragon Sword.
`Lieutenant Wime!’
`Sir?’
`Don’t question my orders again. As it happened, it helped him believe I was actually going to torture him. But if you want to stay in command, just obey me. Understand?’
`Yes sir!’
Martil watched him go, and sighed. `Tarik!’
The hunter appeared by his side a few moments laster.
`Stay here with two men. Give us a decent start, then sound the horn four times and follow as fast as you can before any searchers can get here.’
`Sir!’
The guardsmen and militia had finished collecting discarded weapons, so Martil called them in.
`Well done lads! We’re giving Havrick a headache! Now, let’s away and find another spot to hurt him!’
- - - -
THE news one of his groups had been wiped out reached Jennar only slowly. Then it took him time to concentrate his groups around the site of the attack, out on his right flank. He had served with Errec for a decade and knew the ambush had to have been well planned to do so much damage.
`They had archers up there, then a force of swordsmen took the remaining men in the flank,’ one of the scouts reported. `They didn’t stand a chance.’
`They must have killed a few of the rebels,’ one of his sergeants, who Jennar recognised as Errec’s friend Porrit, mumbled.
`Don’t be a fool. They were outnumbered and surprised,’ Jennar snorted. `No, they were wiped out. Now get the bodies buried, and two squads to take the wounded back to camp.’
`Your orders, sir?’ one of his junior lieutenants
`Same as before. I doubt Captain Havrick would take kindly to us giving up the search. Anyway, this is what he wants. Use our lives to find out where they are hiding. As long as one man lives to tell him of the rebels’ location, he’ll be happy. Now, we must form up and create a new search pattern, based on this attack, as it must have been their group closest to their camp.’
`What if that’s what they want us to think?’ an old sergeant asked.
Jennar smiled at the man, a tough veteran called Gillen.
`I might be tempted to agree with you, but then that would mean we should search in the opposite direction. A man could go crazy doing that. And let’s not forget, who’s to say they have been trained. A bunch of soft guardsmen, some militia and a few hunters. If it came to a proper fight, they’d be no chance.’
Gillen still looked doubtful, so Jennar put an arm around his shoulder. `Sergeant, if that’s what they wanted, they wouldn’t have aimed at the trumpeter. Two arrows, and a sword wound. They wanted to silence him. We have to assume that, or we are just wasting our time out here.’ Jennar knew he was talking too much. A good leader did not have to explain everything to his men. But he knew the men were worried about how they were being used as bait. He felt he owed them some sort of explanation.
`Now let’s begin the search again, but try and stay close to your next group. And be prepared for an ambush at any moment.’ Jennar knew he was ensuring slow progress - and that would infuriate Havrick - but he could not force his men to march to their deaths. `They’re going to strike again, and probably again, but each time we will be that much closer to their camp, that much closer to revenge,’ he said, hoping it was true.
- - - -
Martil had sent four of the guardsmen back, laden with captured swords. He did not need them to ambush 20 men. He reckoned one more attack, again at the group at the far right of their line, which was far to the east of their camp, should be enough to ensure their search pattern would miss the caves by several miles. This second attack would be more difficult. The soldiers would be alert. But he had Barrett, who was able to provide him with an accurate picture of where the groups were. Once more Martil gathered around the squad leaders.
`Tarik, I want you to take your best two archers with you, and strike this group here,’ Martil indicated the group three in from the end of the line. `Pick off their scouts, and the group leader, if you can. Then fade into the forest before they realise how many of you there are. They’ll react by blowing the warning horn. When we hear that, we’ll strike this group here. The horn will attract their attention and distract them enough to allow us to strike.’
`How will we know when to attack?” Tarik asked.
`Barrett will send a bird as a messenger,’ Martil gestured towards the wizard.
`Expect to see an owl arrive, and fly down onto your shoulder. As soon as that happens, you know to attack,’ Barrett gestured, and an owl flew down to join him. `This one.’
`And if they are too far away from us?’ Tarik asked.
Martil gestured down at the rough map he had sketched into the dirt.
`They are all moving at similar speeds. They will not be far away. But if they are, Barrett will have seen that, and the owl will bring you new orders.’
Tarik looked over to where the bird sat on Barrett’s shoulder, unblinking.
`I’ve heard of using bird calls to signal an attack before, but this is ridiculous,’ he muttered.
The others laughed, and Martil had to join in, as well. Men who could laugh before a fight were ready for battle. Two easy victories had given them plenty of confidence. The trick was to ensure those easy victories continued.
- - - -
JENNAR waved his scouts forward. He had three men out, a good 50 yards in front of the main group. They darted from tree to tree, while his men did likewise, trying to stay in cover and watch all around them. They only had swords, which were hardly the right weapons for this sort of fighting. The rangers used bows, while also carrying throwing knives and short swords. But the rangers were confined to barracks, he had heard, deemed not loyal enough. Still, they would have come in handy here. Although there was something about these woods that chilled a man. He had not seen or heard any animals or birds - although, as he thought that, he saw an owl glide overhead and disappear off to his right.
He was confident that most of his men would survive an ambush; enough, at least, to hold off a charge until help could get to them. For the 20th time he checked his trumpeter was safe, then waved his scouts forward again. But this time, instead of running to the next group of trees, the trio just collapsed onto the ground, and lay jerking. Jennar stared in shock for a long second - until he saw the white feathers of an arrow sticking out of one man’s chest.
`Get down!’ he roared, and dived for the dubious safety of a fallen tree, as an arrow whistled over his head. More arrows were whipping in, and he could hear two of his men shouting with pain. He risked a quick look up, and saw his trumpeter sounding the four notes to warn of attack.
`Help’s on its way!’ he roared.
But although a few arrows hissed through the air and thudded into trees, the expected arrow storm seemed more like a shower. One man had an arrow through the calf, another had one in his chest, but apart from that, nobody had been hit. They were just being kept pinned down.
`Watch your flanks!’ Jennar yelled, but nothing materialised out there.
The arrows seemed to have stopped, and that indicated swordsmen were going to attack at any moment. But still nothing came.
`There!’ someone called out, and Jennar turned to see figures running towards them. He was about to order his men to form line, when he realised they were his own men, from another group.
`First squad, into the trees! Find out where those archers are!’ he barked.
But by the time the first group to respond to the trumpeted distress calls had reached him, and another was in sight, that squad had returned to say there were no archers in the trees. Or indeed, anywhere.
`I think we scared them off, sir,’ Sergeant Gellin suggested.
Jennar thought about that theory. He liked it, but another possibility suddenly occurred to him.
`Sound recall!’ he bellowed.
- - - -
SERGEANT Porrit heard the trumpet blasts only faintly.
`Not us lads, it’s down the line, too far away to reach,’ he declared.
His men relaxed, and he did not yell at them for it. They had all been under pressure, the fear of the next attack growing with every step they took into the woods. They felt sorry for the other group that was under attack but it was a relief, as well, not to be them.
Porrit wondered if they should start marching towards the sound. He turned towards his trumpeter, intending to ask the man if he should sound the recall, when he heard a hissing noise, followed by a sound that reminded him of a waterskin being burst. Two feathered shafts appeared in the trumpeter’s chest, followed by a third, and the man collapsed backwards. Porrit jumped for the trumpet, but before he could reach it, felt two hammer blows in his back and fell on top of the man’s body without even realising what had killed him.
His men were standing around talking, thinking they were safe, and the arrows ripped into them for precious seconds before they scattered for cover. But as soon as they scattered, Martil led a charge in from the flank, the militia and guardsmen close behind.
The soldiers tried to fight back, in groups of two and three, but each small group was faced with up to 10 militia or guardsmen, and were swiftly wiped out.
Martil raced forwards, Dragon Sword in his hand, and charged right at two men who jumped out to fight him. One aimed a cut at Martil’s head, but he blocked the blow with his left-hand sword, then beheaded the man with the Dragon Sword. His mate tried to thrust at Martil’s face, but the Dragon Sword sliced through the top third of the man’s sword, then ripped open his chest. Martil darted away, almost before the body hit the ground. The exultation of using the Dragon Sword was almost too much in battles such as this.
He felt like laughing as he fought, but his laughter dried up when he saw Barrett join the fight. Once more the wizard’s staff had become the size of a small tree, and with every blow he swung, a soldier was sent flying through the air.
The soldiers were brave and well-trained, and tried to fight back, but wherever Martil and Barrett went, resistance collapsed. The last two men threw down their swords rather than face him, dropping to their knees in terror.
`Rocus! Check for casualties, and round up all the weapons we can use. We shall leave swiftly,’ Martil called.
`What about these prisoners, captain?’ Wime asked.
Martil hesitated. He knew he should try and win them over to his side, using the Dragon Sword. But if they had not surrendered, he would have ripped them apart with it.
`Use the Sword. Try to make it work on them,’ Barrett encouraged.
Martil rounded on him, taking his arm and leading him a short distance away from the others. `Thank you for the advice, but I give the orders around here. And what did you intend by joining the fight? We had it won, we did not need you. But we might need your magic to get us back!’
Barrett dragged his arm free. `I am here to help you, and to protect the men. Thanks to me, as well as yourself, not one of our men was killed, and just a couple were wounded. And I have not expended too much energy, either. It is not just yourself who can impress the men in battle, remember.’
Martil ground his teeth. `You are under my orders. Disobey me again and I’ll leave you back at the caves with the women.’
`Well, I’m sure Merren would like to have me around. Especially after you get yourself killed because I’m not here to guide you every step of the way,’ Barrett snarled.
Martil took a deep breath. This was not helping things - and they were wasting time here.
`I will call on you when I need you in battle. Until then, you should remain our secret weapon. Now these survivors will be able to tell Havrick that you are fighting alongside us.’
`Not if they are won over to our side. Use the Sword,’ Barrett urged.
Marti walked away from him, because he had no intention of arguing further with the wizard. He would use the Dragon Sword, and show the wizard who was the real champion here. He drew the Sword and held it out before the two nervous men.
`This is the Dragon Sword. You watched me wield it. You know it is real. So now you have a choice. Join me, fight for the Queen, or fight against the symbol of everything you have been brought up to honour,’ Martil said simply.
The two men just stared at him before the taller, a muscular man with a thick moustache, spoke.
`Will you kill us if we refuse?’
Martil was almost tempted to agree, so they would want to join him and he could at least show off two recruits, but he had no intention of allowing men who were not committed to fight beside him.
`No. You will go free,’ he said.
The man shrugged. `That may be the Dragon Sword. But I watched it kill my friends. How can I fight for you then? I can’t destroy their memory.‘
Martil nodded. `So you will seek revenge for their deaths?’
The man straightened. `I will.’
`Why not now? You two against me. If you win, you go free,’ he offered.
The pair looked at each other before looking at the Dragon Sword that glittered in Martil’s hand. He hoped they would choose to fight. Just thinking how Barrett would be swift to report to Merren that the Dragon Sword was still not responding to him was making him angry.
`We would be mad to do that. You would kill us,’ Moustache said finally.
`Tell your friends that. Any that come against me will die. Remember that,’ Martil stepped in close, so he could see the man’s eyes and feel his fear. Moustache tried to meet his gaze but the younger soldier just stared at the ground, where a widening puddle betrayed how afraid he was. Disgusted, both with them and with himself, Martil stepped back.
`Time to go! Tie these two gutless bastards to a tree and gag them!’ he called.
`I can do that,’ Barrett declared, and before Martil could say anything, had gestured at the pair. A nearby tree suddenly came to life, its branches wrapping around the men, lifting them off the ground and leaving them high in the air, their mouths stuffed with leaves so they could not even cry out.
Martil was about to say something, then realised what an effect such a sight would have on the men who found this group. A frightened enemy was one who did not fight as well.
`Good work,’ he told Barrett, grudgingly.
Just then, trumpets sounded through the forest.
`That’s our signal to go. Come on!’
The two wounded guardsmen were helped away by their comrades. One had a cut bicep, which was bound up tight, the other had a pair of broken ribs, after a sword thrust was mostly stopped by his leather armour. Barrett stopped the blood flow and promised to do more once they were back at the caves.
The men were still extremely cheerful. This was the third time they had cut apart their foes, and still not one of their number had been killed.
`At this rate, we’ll have them all killed off by the new moon,’ Rocus boasted.
Martil did not tell him that Havrick would probably have his men searching in groups of 50 after this. He walked slightly ahead of the men, near Barrett, who was leading the way as usual.
`I know you did not want me to fight, but I think you should try not to fight, either,’ the wizard said quietly.

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