I've been really busy lately. I'm working on quite a few projects at one time, which leaves me precious little time to work on other things, this blog included. Today, I'm very proud to give you a sneak peek of the concept cover for Rider of the Sun Horse–along with a snippet of the novel, which is also a work-in-progress.
Rider of the Sun Horse should be finished and for sale sometime later in the year.
Was it suicide, murder, or both if he obeyed his king, sending those under his command to their inevitable, bloody deaths? Lars stared at the letter in his hand, willing the orders to change. They didn’t.
It didn’t matter that his three hundred men and women were the best skirmishers in Kelsh. A force three times their size had no hope of success. His king wanted him and his company dead, and Lars didn’t understand why. The royal messenger, with his beady eyes and graying hair, watched him like a circling vulture over a fresh kill, awaiting Lars’s response.
A sane man would’ve crumpled the parchment, throwing it down in a fit of rage. Lars folded the sheet, tucking it inside his tunic. Sweeping his hand across the table, he pushed the colored flags to the side so he could stare at the map beneath. The border between Kelsh and Danar was a red streak, its color too similar to fresh blood for his liking.
His target was fifty miles to the north beyond the Danar border, a stone fortress in a sea of sand and craggy dunes. If the desert didn’t kill them first, the Danarite scavengers would finish the job easily enough. Suicide or murder didn’t really matter, Lars decided.
Dead was dead.
He straightened, snapping a salute to the royal messenger. “Please send a verbal response,” he said, fixing his stare on the circle indicating the fortress on the map. “We will depart from our current location in one week, per our orders.”
One week might give him enough time to save is men and women. Lars swallowed, picking up a red flag and placing it over the Danarite target. “End response. Dismissed.”
Lars glanced up in time to see the royal messenger smile and snap a salute. Pivoting on a heel, the man turned and left. Drumming a beat on the edge of the table, he considered the map before flicking another red flag into Danar. It fell on its side, the cloth lying limp on the vellum.
Another three flags joined the first two before he managed to set one spinning on its circular, wooden base. When it toppled, it came to rest on the tip of the Rift where it jutted into Danar some hundred miles west and north of the camp’s location.
Lars drew in a deep breath through clenched teeth. Holding it until his chest ached, he considered the map and the pieces scattered over it. He had one week to come up with a plan. Flicking a golden flag, representative of one of his cavalry groups, and watched it come to rest on the far side of Danar, beyond the Rift.
If he could somehow sneak his company through the desert wastes of Danar and then south through Ontherat, they could hide in Mithrias. But how? Lars sent another flag skittering across the table.
It landed in the Rift again. Lars scowled, reclaiming the piece. The Rift, like the orders from his king, offered nothing but death.
If he wanted to reach Mithrias, he had to go around the tip of the canyons, cliffs, and mountains through Danar. If they survived the journey to Mithrias, they could either join an established mercenary company or build a new one. The junta refused contracts from Kelsh or Danar in accordance with the Covenant of the Six Kingdoms. They’d be safe from having to fight their people. The Shadow Council of Mithrias didn’t care about the pasts of the mercenaries under their rule.
They’d be free.
If, of course, he could convince the company to betray Kelsh as they were being betrayed. That was another problem he’d have to solve and fast. Would they? Would his men and women choose to follow him for the sake of survival over the king they had all sworn loyalty to?
With at least three men serving as the king’s spies in his ranks, he couldn’t ask, not openly. How could he come up with a plan that would send them riding across Danar without his company realizing they were defecting to Mithrias?
Lars set the black flag representing the company’s officers on the edge of the map. No matter what he did, he couldn’t involve any of them. If the king’s men caught him in the act of treason, his officers would be innocent of wrongdoing.
Gathering up all of the flags, Lars repositioned them on the map, marking the fortress in red. He clustered his units together in the camp, and wondered how a force of three hundred riders could hope to take on a stronghold occupied by hundreds more, if not thousands.