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Noonshade
James Barclay
excerpt courtesy of Victor Gollancz
 

Fred Gambino
Noonshade
James Barclay
James Barclay was born in 1965. He was brought up in Felixstowe, Suffolk, and attended college in Sheffield before training to be an actor. He was an extra in the film, Onegin, but his screen appearance ended up on the cutting room floor. He works in London as an advertising and promotions manager for an investment house. The first novel in his series, Chronicles of the Raven, is titled Dawnthief.

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Thraun had unshouldered his pack and was stripping off his leather before the sound of the fallen bell registered as trouble in Hirad's mind.

'You don't have to do this, Thraun,' said Will, his stance edgy, worry lining his face.

'We must have a diversion or Ilkar and Denser will be killed.'

'I doubt that,' said Hirad.

'There are seven of us against three hundred. We have to give ourselves a fighting chance,' Thraun said.

'But that's not the real reason, is it?' Will was staring up into Thraun's yellow-tinged eyes. Anger flickered across them before he shook his head sharply.

'There's no time to talk about this now.' He turned to face Hirad. 'Don't wait for me at the shore. I can swim. I'll find you.' The shapechanger, naked now, lay down. The Unknown hefted Will's stove and Thraun's sword on his back. Will bagged the clothes and armour and slung them over his. 'Best you get on,' said Thraun. 'I'll catch you up.'

The night was filling with the sounds of anger and confusion. Hirad led The Raven quietly along the edges of the cliff. Soon, the watch tower was in sight and the shore angled sharply away to their left where the camp was built. Nothing moved on the platform.

'Where are they?' In answer, a figure rose in the tower. Denser. His arms moved outwards, then clutched into his chest. Six columns of fire screamed down from the sky, scoring sudden blinding light across the camp. Each one smashed into a store marquee, unleashing frightening devastation.

HellFire. The columns sought souls and Denser had guessed right that men or dogs slept inside the marquees, and each plunged through canvas to gorge itself. Tearing through timber boxes, stacks of cured meats, vegetables, grains, rope and weapons, detonating flour which flashed fire bright within three of the store tents. Their canvas exploded outwards on a wave of air, sending planks, splinters, shards of wood and debris high into the night. Flame burst sideways, sheets of yellow-flecked orange snapping out, catching men and surrounding tents alike. The guards around the campfire wouldn't have stood a chance.

'Raven, let's go!' called Hirad as the camp dissolved into chaos. From somewhere on the wind he thought he heard laughter. He broke into a run, heading for the base of the tower in which Ilkar and Denser both now stood. FlameOrbs sailed out, diving into the tents at the northern end of the camp and splashing fire across tribal standards, scorching Wesman and canvas alike. New screams joined those already mingling with barked orders, shouts of alarm and the roar of two dozen blazes. Wesmen ran in all directions carrying buckets, salvaged stores and burned and dying comrades.

A handful of Wesmen warriors ran to intercept The Raven and gain the tower.

'Forget a shield, Erienne,' said Hirad as they took up position, the mage behind the trio of swordsmen. 'We need offence. And quickly.'

'Right.'

Hirad roared and closed with the first Wesman. The Unknown, three paces right, waited for the flanking attack.

The barbarian sliced left to right, his enemy blocking and leaping backwards. Hirad followed up with a cut to the neck which the Wesman turned away but he was in no shape for the third as Hirad switched grip and opened a huge gash across his chest. Blood welled through his heavy furs and he stumbled. The Raven warrior stepped up and pierced his heart.

Turning, Hirad saw The Unknown taking on two, sweeping his blade into one's side and kicking out straight into the other's stomach. More Wesmen were gathering and Hirad weighed up their options.

'Ilkar, we need you two down here,' he called.

'We've got a better idea,' Ilkar shouted back. 'Head for the shore, we'll see you there.'

Hirad refocused on the battle. Fires raged on in the centre of the camp. Fanned by the wind, more and more tents fell victim and the anguished cries of terrified animals rose above the noise of blaze and clamour of voices. Directly in front of The Raven, twenty Wesmen broke and ran at them. The Unknown tapped his blade on the ground, waiting.

'I'll take left,' he said, sensing Hirad's eyes on him.

'Will to my right,' said Hirad. The wiry man trotted into position. The Wesmen ran on, their momentum the greatest immediate threat they posed, their weight of numbers enough to overpower the thin Raven line if they so chose. Hirad tensed for the fight but at twenty yards, the charge was shattered.

Erienne stepped forward between Hirad and The Unknown. She crouched and spread her arms wide.

'IceWind.' The temperature fell sharply as the cone of dread cold air streamed from Erienne's palms, whistling as it went and taking the centre of the Wesmen advance. It's broad front caught six men full on and they fell, clutching their faces, lips seared together, eyes frozen and cracked, their cries of agony little more than desperate hums inside useless mouths.

At the periphery of the spell, blood chilled in exposed flesh, blades fell from numb fingers and heads turned away, the whole line stumbling to a stop in the face of the sudden gale of glacial air.

As quickly as it had come, the IceWind had gone but there was no respite for the stricken Wesmen. Trying to bring some order out of the mayhem caused by the spell, they were taken completely unawares by Thraun. The wolf's approach had been silent but now he howled and crashed neck high into the enemy, ripping the throat from one, his huge flailing paws knocking another from his feet to lie stunned on the ground.

Hirad made to wade in but The Unknown's voice stopped him.

'No, Hirad. Leave him to it. They can't hurt him. Let's get to the shore.' The barbarian nodded.

'Just as we planned,' he said, and headed north to skirt the first group of burned out tents. A shape shot over his head and ducked low towards him. He flinched and brought up his sword. Denser hovered in front of him, ShadowWings deployed, Ilkar in his arms and caught around his neck.

'We've got more damage to cause. Get the boat and get out in the Inlet. I'll fly in,' said Denser. Ilkar said nothing, his eyes closed as he prepared a spell.

'You be careful, Denser,' warned Erienne.

'The thought is lodged in my mind.' He shot up and back, heading for the southern end of the camp. Hirad followed the flight, the black shaft of an arrow silhouetted against the light swept past them. Immediately afterwards, the gates of the cow and horse pens shattered and the animals stampeded.

'Let's go, Raven.' Hirad ran for the shore, leaving Thraun to his slaughter and the mages to their destruction.

* * *

Thraun could smell the fires, the fear and the blood mixed with the scent of prey animal and dog. He picked his way quickly through the grass, pale brown body blending with the colours of night, paws silent. He stopped at the perimeter of the human occupation, myriad scents vying for dominance. He ignored them. In front of man-packbrother, enemies gathered. They threatened, their sharp weapons raised. With the sound of the pack echoing in his mind and the smell of the forest forward in his memory, he charged.

The first enemy hadn't even faced him. He leapt, jaws closing on unprotected throat, left paw connecting with his chest, right beating another to the ground. Blood filled his mouth and coated his nose, his growl of pleasure the last sound his victim heard.

Panic gripped the enemy. They broke and ran. Thraun turned his head. Man-packbrother and the others were moving swiftly away. Water. His brain fought to remember. He would meet them on the water. He looked down, lashing a paw into the man he'd knocked down. He stopped moving, blood covering the wreckage of his face. Thraun howled again and set off, tracking man-packbrother, fighting the urge to chase down the prey animals that bolted here and there, their terror a tempting taste in his mouth.

Man-packbrother moved along the edge of the occupation. Thraun was inside the first line of dwellings, most of which burned, their occupants either dead or running blindly. There was no order. From his right, he heard sounds of alarm. Three enemy moved towards man-packbrother. Thraun hit them at a dead run, catching the first on his chest and sending him sprawling into the others. Consumed with the blood, he ripped and tore, his fangs chopping into flesh as he worked his head left and right, his paws beating, claws dragging.

From above, an enemy hit him with his sharp weapon. It stung his hide and he yelped, rounding on his tormentor, whose eyes widened. It had been a hard blow but Thraun's hide had not split. He bared his fangs and advanced.

Copyright © 2000 by James Barclay

All rights reserved. No part of this may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the author. This excerpt has been provided by Victor Gollancz and printed with their permission.

Thanks to everyone who entered our Dawnthief/Noonshade contest. All the books have been won and the contest is now closed. A complete list of winners will be published in the next Letters column.

For those interested, the answers to the questions are:
What is the name of the shapechanger? Thraun
What does The Unknown do while waiting to join battle? Tap his blade point on the ground
What spell does Erienne first use on the Wesmen? IceWind


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