Nathan Hawke short story: The Screambreaker

GALLOWThis time next week we’ll be celebrating the publication of GALLOW: THE CRIMSON SHIELD; Nathan Hawke’s fast-paced fantasy novel. To whet your appetite and increase your anticipation just a little more, we have another short story from Nathan Hawke for you to sink your teeth into.

If you’ve missed previous Gallow extended extracts, short stories and deleted scenes, then you can  find them all on Nathan’s website.

Oh and don’t forget our competition! We have five copies of  THE CRIMSON SHIELD to give away to five lucky people. To enter read this and email the answer to the following question:

How does the ‘magician’ say you can kill the Eyes of Time? 

to by 11.59pm on the 15th July 2013 with the subject line: GALLOW. (Terms and conditions)


 The Screambreaker

Location – Vanhun

His father had called him Corvin after a rock at the end of one of his fields. Corvin’s Rock. He’d thought it was a strong name, hard and weathering like the stone. Turned out it had been called Corvin’s Rock after an old crow that had taken to making the rock its place to watch the world back a generation, but his father hadn’t known that. Corvin the Crow. It suited him. Mostly Corvin preferred the idea of being a rock, but there were days when he knew, in secret, that he was really the crow. Crows were drawn to battlefields, after all.

He stared at the runes carved into the shrine before him. The trees were thick with leaves, blocking out the bright spring sun. The shadows pressed in around him. He felt the burden of them, loaded by the weight of all the dead. The Marroc, he’d heard, had taken to calling him The Widowmaker. They’d had enough of widows and so now they meant to put an end to him. Couldn’t say he blamed them. All the fighting down the coast from Pengaron’s Rock had been one thing, but what he’d done to Vanhun had been another. No surprise King Tane himself had sat up after that and raised the army that waited for the Lhosir now. Death and the Widowmaker, as it was meant to be. Tane had sent his son, Yarric, the fiercest Marroc there was, and Yarric carried with him the Crimson Shield of Modris the Protector. Apparently that made him invincible.

It’s just a shield. He knew it in his heart, but then he knew how much it mattered to have a belief when you went to battle. A Lhosir warrior faced the enemy already knowing he was going to win, and that was why they so often did. The Lhosir’s enemies faced them already knowing they were going to lose. He’d seen it, time and again, and so the enemy always lost, and sometimes all you had to do was shout at them to make them break. Not this time though. Not while the Marroc carried their shield.

“General, the Marroc have reached the foot of the hill.”

Corvin didn’t move. General? When had he become that? Yurlak had sent him across the sea. Go and do something useful. If you have to stir up trouble, stir it with the Marroc not with me. Yurlak was afraid of him, just like he was afraid of Moontongue. . . no, afraid wasn’t the right word, because he and Yurlak and Farri were three of a kind and none of them had ever been afraid of anything. But Yurlak knew well enough that both Corvin and Farri, left to their own ends, were bound to break something. Better if what they broke was somewhere far away. At least he’d managed to give one of them something to do.

“I came here to be less trouble for my kin.” He was talking to the trees. Bring me back something pretty. But what he’d brought back was a crunching great war and ship-loads of plunder and a hunger for more that had infected every Lhosir in the kingdom. The first time he’d crossed the sea he’d come with one ship and fifty men. The second time it had been three ships and over a hundred. Now he had an army of five thousand Lhosir; and after Vanhun they’d follow him anywhere.

“General? The Marroc.”

He closed his eyes. The shrine was to some Marroc god. He had no idea which and he didn’t care. For Corvin the Crow there was only the Maker-Devourer. The Maker-Devourer created all and devoured everything and that was the way of things. The Marroc prayed to their gods and made their sacrifices but the Maker-Devourer had no use for devotions and baubles. Live an honest life. Be true to yourself above all things, that was the be-all and end-all of what mattered.

He stood up. He didn’t understand the Marroc and probably never would.

The two Lhosir warriors behind him stood, waiting. They were were feigning patience but he felt their urge for the fight to start. He nodded to them. “The Marroc.” The need. The desire. The hunger, he felt it too. One of them held his shield. The other held his spear. He took each slowly and carefully, inspected them and then strapped his shield to his arm and started to walk through the trees. The other Lhosir fell in behind him, single-file down the narrow path that would take him to the edge of the wood and his waiting army. It wasn’t far and they had time, he knew they had time. He had his five thousand arrayed at the top of a rise with their shields locked in a wall, a line a thousand men long and five ranks deep, and with their backs to the trees in case the fighting turned sour and they had to run. Better to scatter into woods. Harder for the Marroc to chase them down that way. When you chased your enemy into the woods then you never quite knew when they might find their spirit again and be waiting for you behind a tree with a sharp spear or a fast strike of the axe.

He picked up his pace, walking briskly now. Yes, he’d chosen his field well, waiting for Yarric and his thirty thousand, outnumbering his own Lhosir by so many that the numbers hardly even mattered any more. This time the Marroc had their holy shield. They’d have to come up the slope and into the teeth of the Lhosir wall but they wouldn’t break.

Woods. Make it easier to run? But a Lhosir didn’t run. A Lhosir fought until he fell, and so likely as not Yarric would kill them all today, every single one of them. A bloody slaughter for Lhosir and Marroc alike, but the Marroc would take the day. There were so many of them.

He started to laugh and broke into a steady jog. At least Yurlak would be rid of one of them. Just the Moontongue left to worry about, him and his precious throne that Corvin hadn’t ever even wanted in the first place. The Moontongue wanted it sure enough, but not Corvin the Crow.

I just wanted some peace.

He ran faster. A bright arch of sunlight faced him through the trees. He raced for it and burst out of the woods and into the field, in among the lines of his waiting men, shields held high, spears loose and at the ready. Through the gap they’d left for him, he could see the Marroc already marching steadily up the slope, banging their axes and their spears against their shields. The sun shone off their brightly polished helms. So unbearably many of them.

And there he was, right in the middle where a good king ought to be. Prince Yarric with his invincible crimson shield. You couldn’t miss him.

Corvin the Crow kept on running, helter-skelter through his own men and let out a mighty roar: “Maker-Devourer!” He charged. Him alone against every Marroc ever born. And if his men let out cries of their own, he didn’t hear, and if they braced their shields and charged in a flawless wall of wood and iron behind him, he didn’t know because he didn’t look back, but afterwards he supposed that must have been what had happened. It was hard to think of it, even as Thanni Ironfoot danced about with Yarric’s severed head swinging from his hand by his long blood-matted hair, even as Jyrdas One-Eye and Lanjis Halfborn lifted him up and carried him high and then thrust the Crimson Shield of Modris into his unfeeling hands, even as he watched the last of the Marroc break and run. Hard because he barely remembered any of it at all.

Only that it had been his day to die, but once again death spurned him.