A sample from The Coming of the Sword

Sword & Sorcery

The Coming of the Sword is the last short story in the Niall of the Far Travels Collection.

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For many days he had trotted across the ice field, always straining his gaze ahead, ever seeking the figure of the man he hunted. He was close now, so close that he needed no longer to stare at the ground in search of footprints. For there ahead, revealed in the weak sunlight of this northernmost region, was the man, Gunthar.

Niall grinned wolfishly. Soon would Gunthar face the death he deserved for the attempted rape of lovely young Althia, who was sister to Niall and daughter of Thorkon the Mighty. In less than an hour, Niall would be up with him, would draw his sword and take the vengeance that was due his family.

Niall shifted the white bearskin which covered his side shoulders. Under that skin he wore a mail shirt, covered by a leather kaunake. Around his middle was a broad leather belt from which hung a dagger and a sword. Over his shoulder was his horn hunting bow and a quiver of long war arrows.

Niall disdained the arrows and the bow. He wanted Gunthar face to face, to know — before cold steel killed him — what it meant to assault the daughter of Thorkon the Mighty. Niall trotted faster; his long, thickly thewed legs ate up the ground that lay between him and the man he hunted.

Suddenly the ground under his boots shifted, rolled, began to rise and fall rhythmically, as might the waves of the Cold Sea. Niall staggered and grunted.

“May the gods grant I catch him in time,” he muttered.

He ran faster, and yanked out his sword. As though the still-distant man heard that scrape of blade against scabbard, he looked back. Gunthar had moved into a passage with no exit; to one side was the eternal ice of a mighty glacier, to the other a massive rock wall rising upward to an unscalable height.

It might be that Gunthar realized the futility of further flight, for now he stopped, turned and drew his own sword. Niall ran toward his quarry, shouting in exultation.

The ground still rolled and pitched, yet Niall ran across it swiftly, balancing himself. He was used to the plunging, churning deck of a longboat on the Cold Sea, and this motion of the ground was not unlike the roll of giant waves.

Gunthar waited, pale and somewhat grim. He knew Niall, knew the ferocity of his swordplay, understood that few men could stand against him — without luck. Gunthar prayed to Loki, god of mischief, hoping that the god would come to him in his moment of need.

Niall hurled himself forward, lips parting in a snarl of fury. His blade swept around, clanged against the weapon Gunthar lifted to parry its deadly sweep. Steel sang. Almost instantly, Niall was driving in again, beating back that sword which opposed him. He drove Gunthar back on his heels, making him give ground.

The earth shuddered beneath them. Ice cracked. There was a muted rumble off to one side. It was as if the very world shared his fury, Niall thought, as he beat down the sword which faced him.

“This is the day you die, Gunthar,” he growled.

“I did no harm to Althia,” the other panted. “She screamed, and others came to stop me. I fled…”

“You fled to your death! You know the law! To him who transgresses against a priestess of Freya, there is only one reply! Death!”

The ground rolled upward, cresting where they fought, pitching them toward the mouth of the pass and onto softer ground, where tall grasses grew. Niall bellowed his war cry and raised his sword.

“Death, Gunthar!” he roared.

His blade flashed downward. It made an arc of light where the sunlight caught it. It slanted into Gunthar’s steel, brushed it aside, then continued downward into the man’s neck, cleaving through flesh and bone. Gunthar’s eyes rolled up into his head and he fell backward, mouth open in a soundless scream.

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A sample of Chapter 2 from Cherry Delight: The Italian Connection

Sexecutioner Series

Chapter Two

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I froze there for about one whole minute. One minute is a long time, if you measure it on a watch. My brain was numb, I was crying inside me. The man who was to take me to Europe as an Uncle Sam agent unbeknownst to him, lay white and still beneath me. I had killed him.

Cherry Delight had struck again!

The only thing was, I hadn’t meant to kill him. It wasn’t part of the plan. He had to be alive, to take me to wherever it was he was going to meet the higher-ups in his Mafia family. Without him, I was a failure.

I scrambled off him, heart thudding wildly. Maybe he wasn’t dead, maybe he’d just fainted. I grabbed his wrist, felt his pulse. None. I bent over his chest, listening to his heartbeat. No heartbeat, either. And when I put a mirror to his lips, there was not the faintest bit of moisture on the glass.

Oh, Joe Turessi was dead, all right. And I’d killed him.

I sat on the edge of the bed and wanted to cry. Damn! It had been in the bag. He had been ripe to take me to Europe with him. I knew it, my female intuition told me as much. I had ways of pleasing him. No other dame did. And now-this

My common sense realized he’d had a heart attack, a massive thrombosis. A fat lot of good that knowledge did me. Wearily I rose from the bed, moved to pick up the black satin evening gown and carry it to the closet.

I paused, staring at those garments on their hangers.

They all looked brand new. I wondered for a second if Joe Turessi had bought them especially for me. My fellow workers at N.Y.M.P.H.O. had learned that the Mafia man had a thing for seeing girls dressing and then undressing. They’d wangled an order from him for a visit from a Femme Fatale: me. And N.Y.M.P.H.O. had counted on my going to Europe with Turessi.

Well, it was a cinch I couldn’t go with him. But—could I go without him? On my own. With his consent. No, better than that: by his orders. I glanced over my shoulder at his dead body. Hmmmm, I’d have to do something about that corpse. Still, with a number of empty coffins in the storage chamber, that shouldn’t be too insurmountable a problem.

I ran downstairs in my black nylons and garter-belt. Hell, it was after hours, it must have been thirty minutes past midnight. The mortuary was in darkness outside the mirrored room. I fumbled around until I found a light switch.

Then I went hunting for his office. It was a wood-paneled room, outfitted with a big mahogany desk and swivel chair, with sombre files recessed behind heavy green drapes, a mantle-piece and fireplace where once logs had burned when this building had been a private home. There was a typewriter on a stand, covered.

I found typing paper in the desk, drew the Remington a little closer, and started to bang the keys. I wrote a nice letter introducing me to the man our International Intelligence unit assured us was named Benito Castracia. His title in the Mob was that of Coordinator, which meant he might be the bossman of the entire Mafia empire.

It took me half an hour to phrase the thing properly. When I was done I had a neatly typed missive. It needed a forged signature. I let my rhinestoned evening pumps take me upstairs so I could examine the articles in Joe Turessi’s discarded clothes where they lay on the mirrored floor. I found a driving license with his signature. I practiced it about twenty times before I scrawled it across the bottom of the letter.

I folded the letter and stared at it. What do I do now? I asked myself. I had no money, not even a handbag. Still. . . .

Joe Turessi would have money. He was ready to take a jet from Kennedy to Paris. He needed spending money. There had been a hundred clams in the wallet from which I’d borrowed his driving license. This meant he had some bread stashed away somewhere else. The funeral parlor safe? It seemed a safe bet, no pun meant.

I have been trained by experts to open safes, at least of the wall variety represented by the old-fashioned one that was hidden by a bit of that same green drapery that kept the filing cabinets out of sight. It took only ten minutes to find the combo.

There was three thousand iron men in the safe, plus his airline ticket on an Air France jet to Paris, another ticket for a subsidiary line to fly him south to Nice. From Nice, he would travel by rented car to Saint Tropez. When he arrived in Saint Tropez, there were reservations for him at the Byblos Hotel.

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A sample of Chapter 5 from Kyrik and the Lost Queen

Sword & Sorcery

Chapter 5

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Kyrik tried to break free. He kicked back, found that the sole of his war-boot touched something soft and rubbery, but the downward tug was not to be resisted. Steadily he was drawn into the deeps of the cold water, with Adorla on his back.

The girl was hitting him with a fist, as though believing he was playing some game. She did not v know that something had hold of him, or if she did, then she was hitting him in an excess of terror.

The water was colder now, and Kyrik could feel a vague current flowing. There was something above him—a stone roof the top of an embankment?—and then he surged up into the air.

He gasped for that air, drew it into his lungs.

Beside him Adorla was sputtering and splashing. His arm drew her against him and he trod water, staring at a cavern that seemed cut out of rock, that was lighted by a tall pillar of glowing stone. His eyes touched that pillar wonderingly.

He knew of nothing it could be. Stone that glowed, with the cold radiance of the firefly. Yet it lighted up the cavern, it showed the rock walls and the stone ceiling from which encrustations of stone drooped downward, and the pool of stagnant Water.

That water rippled, heaved. Kyrik swam for the shoreline, if such it might be called, a low shelf of stone that rose upward from the water to form a little platform. He reached it, one arm about Adorla, and he dropped her, half-drowned, upon its surface.

He swung about and drew his sword. Whatever had gripped him in that river and drawn him here into its lair was still below the surface. The waters of the pool bubbled and churned, yet nothing appeared. Kyrik drew in deep breaths of the cold, wet air, and stared about him.

There were skeletons here, and bits of rusted armor, a broken sword, and here and there a golden chain that might have belonged to a woman. A chill raced up his back. Did all those who had been flung down that shaft end up here, in past years?

If so—how old was that thing which had clutched him?

“Illis—have you abandoned me?” Soft elfin laughter answered him. “Foolish Kyrik Have you so little faith in me?”

“Faith or no faith, you’ve tricked me somehow.” You will need the firestar! “Firestar? What magic is that?” He was so intent on what Illis might tell him that he came close to forgetting the thing that had dragged him here. But the waters swirled and broke, and a black head, wet and shining, in which two red eyes gloated at him, broke the surface of the pool.

His hand tightened on Bluefang’s hilt. The monster was coming up for him now. It rose slowly, water ran off its thick black hide, and up in front two arm-like appendages fitted with giant claws came stabbing upward through the air.

There was no name for this undersea monster—at least none he had ever heard. It was gigantic. He realized he was looking at only part of this thing that seemed almost to fill the pool. Those red eyes that glared at him were unwinking and steady.

They looked upon him as their prey. At his back, Adorla was sobbing. “What is it? Oh, gods of Alkinoor, what is that thing?”

Kyrik made no answer. He was too intent on watching those clawed arms that reached for him, that moved steadily closer—closer—as the behemoth moved almost lazily through the waters. Kyrik! Step within those claws—and strike! The thing surged upward. If it had legs, those legs braced and lifted it. Swiftly now those clawed arms reached outward—

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