A Sample from Chapter 2 of Rebel Wench

Historical Romance

Chapter Two
Rebel Wench gardner f fox civil war historical romance kurt brugel

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The six white pillars of the Hall beckoned Stafford from three miles away, The rows of tall, shutter-hung windows, dimly seen in the shadows of the columned portico, were shy eyes peering out as if in disbelief at the sight of the master riding home at last. Sunlight glinted on the gambrel roof with its three great red-brick chimneys. Fresh paint gave the building an elegance that touched something deep inside him.

He let the stallion run along the graveled drive that curved by the outbuildings and the long white stables with their sweep of cypress shingles neat and spotless. Reining in with a scrape of gravel scratching sparks under iron horseshoes, he came out of the saddle with a call for the stables.

A black face framed in white hair was thrust above the half door of a stall. The eyes opened very wide and the mouth fell open. For a long instant Old Gem stared. Then his shaking hand was pushing aside the lower part of the door, and he was running forward, weeping in his delight:

“Master Billy! Master Billy!”

Stafford opened his arms wide and pulled the old slave into his hug. Then with his hands on the bowed shoulders he pushed the old man back and ran his eyes over him. “You look well fed, Gem! Something tells me that we aren’t exactly starving at Stafford Hall these days.”

A curious look touched the old slave’s features. His eyes dropped as he said, “We eat good, Master Billy. We work hard, too. The mistress stands for no nonsense, ‘cepting from—”

He broke off and fear showed in his old eyes. For a moment he hesitated, then straightened his shoulders. Old Gem knew what an angry master could do to a slave, but he was an old man, soon to die anyhow. For sixty years he had lived within sight of the Dan. He had seen the Hall grow from a little cabin to its present elegance. His hands had taught two generations of Staffords how to ride a horse. Besides, this young giant before him loved him like a son his father.

“They’s British officers always at the house, Master Billy. They bring gold for the wheat and vegetables we grow. The mistress has made you rich.”

“On British gold,” said Stafford, and he frowned. Old Gem licked his lips. He said with a strange inflection in his voice, “One gennelman in particular. He’s most always here Right now, even.”

He winced as powerful fingers dug deep into his arm. A hellish light began to glow in his master’s eyes, a light that flared once and then died out to a still more frightening blankness.

Then Stafford was whirling and moving away, tall and powerful and somehow magnificent to the old slave even in the old blue velvet frock coat and breeches that were too tight for him. Old Gem reached for the reins of the big stallion. His hard hands patted the sleek nose gently, but his eyes watched his master mount the stone steps of the portico and disappear between two tall white pillars. “Never see the Stafford hell light in the young master’s eyes before,” he whispered to the horse. “Only in his daddy’s eyes and in his granddaddy’s eyes, when they were bent on killing a man.”

Old Gem sighed and moved away, with the horse patiently trailing in answer to his tug on the rein.

The hall of the house was cool and white, with a high sheen on its mahogany butterfly table aid matching chairs, as Stafford came through the doors. A gilt scroll-top mirror reflected the peacock design in the wallpaper and the glass base of the chandelier hanging on its chains from the high white ceiling.

Directly ahead was the wide, white door that led out to the herb garden. A spiral stairway twisted upward to the second story. Where the wide treads began, an open door spilled the sound of a teacup clinking against a saucer.

The thick hall carpeting caught the sound of his boots as Stafford moved toward the long parlor. He stood framed in the open doorway, seeing a tall Englishman in the red uniform jacket of a colonel of the Thirty-third Foot bowing before his wife, who sat with shoulders bared in the fashionable French cut of her gown, smiling up at him.

Laura Lee did not see him. The dark magnificence of a Chippendale highboy set between the garden windows framed her, flushed face and its spirals of coiling brown hair. Moisture lay on her full red lips.

Remembrance of the hours they had spent in this room, and in the herb garden beyond the far windows, swept in a flood of weakness through Stafford. Laura Lee had come to Stafford Hall as a bride, young and ardent and curious, seven years ago. Time had matured her, put a gloss and a confidence in her manner, as it had added curving flesh to the body that the British officer was surveying as he sipped his tea.

“I vow and protest, Laury,” he giggled, “you put a fever in my blood with your eternal teasings and cajolings. Promise me every dance this night. Promise me that.”

With her ivory fan she touched his chin as he bent low above her. “La, sir. Such a fire in the man! I’ll promise only the first and the last, to cool your fever.”

“But later, when the ball is over? Ah, what then? Shall we—“

He broke, off and straightened. Laura Lee was staring beyond him at the door, and there was something in her wide eyes that brought him around on a boot heel. The big man in the ill-fitting riding suit standing like a frozen giant in the doorway was staring at him with eyes that were strangely disturbing.

“Billy Joe! Oh, it can’t be!” Laura Lee whispered, and put a trembling hand to the upholstered arm of the settee to rise to her slippered feet.

She swayed a little, and the Colonel took advantage of the fact to steady her by an arm about her waist. He growled, “Impertinent trespasser! Shall I throw him out on his ear, Laury”

Her eyes touched his face a moment. “This is my husband, Colonel. Billy Joe Stafford, of Stafford Hall. Colonel Edmund Emerson.”

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A Sample from Chapter 5 of Thief of Llarn

Sword & Planet

CHAPTER FIVE

Thief of llarn gardner f fox edgar rice burroughs sword and planet kurt brugel

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WE BEGAN our walk across the icy flatland. Our breaths frosted in the air and the wind whipped us with the power of a gale, but we put our heads down and trudged steadily ahead. According to the last reading of the instruments on the flier, we were a few hundred miles north of the magnetic pole. So we continued in that northerly direction along a line of travel that might correspond roughly to 160° longitude. We walked without speaking for what seemed a long time, each of us occupied with his thoughts. I thought of Tuarra, wondering if I would ever see her again. I was remembering our hours together—which seemed so short now, and so far away in another lifetime. I yearned to see her smile flash up at me, to feel the touch of her lips on mine.

The horizon was white and far away, across miles of frozen icecap. Here and there stretches of damp fog crept with silent feet across the snow barrens on which we were the only living things.

The cold ate into us. Our legs were moving now in plodding fashion. Fortunately, a Llarnian compass was standard equipment with each of the hooded jackets, so we were relieved of the danger of walking in a circle. Our course was more or less straight as far as we could determine, northward across the frozen wastes.

How long had we traveled? An hour? Ten hours? We did not know. How far had we walked? We did not know this, either. We moved like robots across the empty white flatlands and in our hearts we knew we were going to die.

After a time Marga stumbled and would have fallen except that I put an arm about her middle and held her up. Her face was very white. A faint coating of frost covered her lips and nostrils. Ghan Karr came up to lend his strength on her other side. “This can’t go on,” he said. “We must go on. To stop is to die.”

“I want to die,” Marga whispered. We staggered through the snow spray tossed into our faces by the arctic gales, past jagged ice carvings shaped by the winds, over stretches of ice so smooth they seemed polished by some giant hand. Ghan Karr fell once, lying quietly without moving, so that I had to drop Marga and go back and lift him to his feet.

“Keep walking. Keep walking!” I told him. He stumbled on with Marga and myself at his heels. He was babbling, singing snatches of a nursery rhyme that was old when Llarn had been a young planet. After a time, Marga joined him.

I was delirious myself, I realized. Ahead of me, locked inside a great ice floe, was a city. I stared at streets, at buildings, at rooftops and tall spires. I giggled; I laughed. I was seeing visions. A city, here in the polar lands? A city locked in ice?

Forgetting the others, I ran up to the massive wall of ice that sheathed the dwellings. The ice was transparent, like clear water frozen solid. I could make out a man standing rigid before a doorway, hand extended toward the latch as if to open it. Beyond him a woman in a fur coat was in mid-stride, balanced to a nicety.

I called to them. I shouted. I waved. Only the echoes of my own voice echoed across the wastes. Then I remembered my grawn. I fumbled off my glove, lifted the weapon in my hand, fired it. The red beam heated the ice to a melting point until it ran down all around the snow where I stood. After a few seconds, there was a tunnel open before me.

I walked into that strange city, stood beside the man about to enter his home. I looked at the woman, saw her face pale and white under a fur cap. They were dead, of course. Dead for uncounted centuries. I had never seen their type of garments before, not even in the ancient history books I had looked at in Kharthol. I turned and stared back through the tunnel. Marga and Ghan Karr lay where they had fallen. I ran to rouse them, to bring them into the warmer air of the ice city.

I shook Ghan Karr to a mumbling wakefulness. He sat up, staring at me like a man demented, “Go away, Uthian. Let me sleep.” He fell over on his face and by sheer force I wrestled him to his feet.

“We’re saved, Ghan Karr. There’s a city!” He began to laugh, looking where I pointed. “I am asleep, after all. My apologies, Prince of Thieves. I thought you were trying to wake me.” He began to stumble toward the great ice sheath behind which he could see buildings now, and people.

I lifted Marga into my arms and carried her at a shuffling trot toward the warmer air not far ahead. She moaned as we went into the tunnel, and her arms came up about my neck. Her eyelashes were frozen to her cheeks, and as she woke, she wept softly.

“I’m dead—and locked in the dark pit of Chorakor!”

“Hush, Marga. You’re as alive as I am.” I put my lips to her eyes, felt the tiny ice flakes moisten and fall away under their heat. Marga opened eyes that glistened tenderly as they regarded my anxious face. I squirmed uncomfortably, not daring to think what she might say. Quickly, to avoid speech, I set her on her booted feet and waved an arm at the city.

“Wha—what is this place, Uthian? A city all in ice? It’s people—oh, I see a man and a woman and . . .”

She turned her pale face toward me. “They’re dead. What killed them—so suddenly?”

My shoulders shrugged. “I do not know, Marga—but I do know that we must find food somewhere, or we too will die.”

“I would not mind dying with you, Uthian,” she said softly, and reached for my hand.

Fortunately, Ghan Karr came out of a building at that moment, waving what looked like a roast of bork steak in his hands. His voice came clearly to us in the warm air. “A food store, you two. Down here—come on. Plenty to eat; frozen stuff that’s been kept in cold storage for Astarra knows how long!”

Marga and I ran into the shop. There were two men and a woman in the store, a man behind one of the counters. Marga sent a swift look about, then turned to me.

“There isn’t much food here. I don’t know what this place is—or what it was—but the people were having a hard time of it. There’s very little to eat on the shelves. Thank the gods there are only three of us.”

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Thief of llarn gardner f fox edgar rice burroughs sword and planet kurt brugel