Welcome to TRB Lounge. Today, I’d like to welcome author Justin Enos, for sharing with us the excerpt from his upcoming novel From Wrath To Ruin.
Read ahead to get a sneak-peek into this amazing new release.
In the fading light of the afternoon, Tijodrin strode further down the Street of Arches before turning east down a winding side lane and a series of short steps. Soon, the fine shops and dwellings were replaced with shabby tenements, squalid workhouses and storefronts with no name or sign to indicate what sort of shadowy business went on inside. The streets narrowed so much that two people could scarce fit between the buildings. Overhead, upper floors shouldered outward until they almost touched, blocking out most of what little daylight remained. Refuse of every description was littered about, and weeds sprouted up amid paving stones that were uneven, cracked, or missing altogether.
This was the Warrens, the most disreputable area in Hohvenlor. A haven for thieves, cutthroats, and a host of other criminals. Hooded eyes watched Tijodrin from doorways and windows – footpads sizing up a potential victim and whores sizing up a potential customer. Tijodrin returned their stares with bold ferocity. The footpads retreated into the shadows to await easier prey, while the whores responded with lewd suggestions and flashes of pale flesh.
Eventually, he came to a small open space that could only very generously be called a square. It was an area of dirt and patchy brown grass with bits of rotted wood, broken masonry and other debris strewn about. The middle of the square was currently occupied by the prone figures of two men, whether dead or merely passed out Tijodrin could not tell. Four buildings surrounded the area, and a more ramshackle collection of structures could hardly be imagined. A tenement that looked abandoned and in danger of falling in on itself, a dank bawdy house with rusty iron bars over its lone window, and two taverns as decrepit as any he had ever seen. It was to the tavern on the left that Tijodrin turned his attention.
The Withered Man occupied the whole of a single-story building that leaned drunkenly against the larger building behind it. Thrown together with roughhewn timbers, it’s few windows were all heavily shuttered and its door was a patchwork of several pieces of mismatched wood. The rag-draped skeleton on the crooked sign out front was desperately in need of a fresh painting. Scowling, Tijodrin strode across the square to the tavern and pushed through the flimsy door.
If the outside was a wreck, the inside was even worse. Candles burned weakly in wall lanterns and on some tabletops, while the sunlight barely peeked through the shuttered windows. The fireplace in the corner had partially collapsed and was now only useful as a resting place for a mangy brown dog. The bar was nothing more than a sagging plank of pine laid across some empty ale barrels. A short, bald man stood behind it, staring suspiciously at Tijodrin.
The air was thick with the acrid smell of skral, the cheap narcotic so popular here in the northern lands. Half a dozen men sat at the battered tables scattered around the room, puffing on large pipes of the stuff, each in varying states of oblivion. Tijodrin wrinkled his nose in disgust as the clouds of skral were not quite enough to mask the odor of stale beer and unwashed bodies. The man that he was looking for was easy to spot as he had been unflatteringly, and thus accurately, described.
Obrik sat at the least worn of the tables, one cluttered with half empty plates and several wrapped blocks of skral. He was a corpulent man with a double chin drooping over the collar of his tunic, a tunic that had once been fine but was now stained with wine and sweat. He was chewing noisily on something, and his greasy beard held the crumbs of at least one meal. A scrawny girl wearing a thin cotton shift was slumped against Obrik’s shoulder. Tijodrin could not help but notice the collection of bruises that covered her arms.
Standing on either side of the table were two huge men in loose trousers and leather jerkins. Short stabbing swords and thick, curved daggers hung from their belts. Seeing Tijodrin’s gaze fall upon their master, the heavily muscled giants uncrossed their arms, their hands falling to sword hilts. One of them lumbered around to stand in front of the table. Tijodrin withdrew the leather wallet and stepped purposefully toward the table.
“Letters from Harnir of Skoden,” he announced over the giant’s shoulder.
The hulking bodyguard turned his head in Obrik’s direction, and the fat man responded with a grunt.
The bodyguard shifted to one side, just enough to allow Tijodrin to get past. Placing the bulging wallet on the table, he pretended not to notice the bodyguard taking up position directly behind him. Obrik glared up at him through bleary eyes as if Tijodrin had interrupted something more important than another unneeded meal. Belching loudly, he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.
“An islander,” he muttered, easing his bulk forward and resting his elbows on the table.
Next to him, the girl stirred from her slumber and gave Tijodrin a yellow-toothed smile. She could not have been more than twelve or thirteen.
“Didn’t think they let your kind wander out of the guildhall.” Obrik’s sneering tone implied a strong support for that particular restriction.
Tijodrin said nothing, only regarded Obrik impassively.
Opening the wallet and removing the letters, Obrik jabbed his finger at the empty chair opposite him.
“I’ll stand,” Tijodrin said flatly. He did not wish to spend any more time in this man’s presence than was necessary.
Obrik’s eyes narrowed, but he shrugged and started sifting through the letters, carefully checking the wax seals on each of them.
“You know Harnir well?” He asked, tapping a dirty fingernail on the parchments. “Well enough.”
What Tijodrin knew was that Harnir was a minor merchant who traded in information as much as in goods. He was also a smuggler, a fence, and possibly, even a spy. As unsavory as he was, Harnir had a certain amount of honor, of decency. The same could not be said of this foul person in front of him.
“Everything seems to be in order,” Obrik muttered again, sounding almost disappointed.
He tucked the letters back in the wallet and slipped it inside his filthy tunic.
“I am surprised Harnir would trust an islander. I have always heard that your ilk are dishonest.”
“Perhaps you have also heard that we do not take kindly to insults,” Tijodrin replied, his eyes growing cold. The warning in those eyes went unheeded.
Obrik said something in a dialect that Tijodrin did not understand, but by the way the girl and the two bodyguards laughed, it was clearly crude and at his expense. Tijodrin gave the fat man a small smile, though it was anything but friendly. It was a smile that promised malice.
Slowly, and with obvious reluctance, Obrik withdrew a small handful of silver coins from his belt pouch and slapped them on the table. Tijodrin scooped them up and placed them in his own pouch.
“Care to spend any of that now?” Obrik leered, jerking his thumb at the skinny girl.
She rewarded Tijodrin with another wan smile and pushed a few loose strands of tangled hair out of her eyes. Making no attempt to hide the expression of contempt and revulsion on his face, Tijodrin started to turn away from the table. A hand like a slab of granite came down on his shoulder, holding him firmly in place.
“I did not dismiss you,” Obrik growled.
“I do not require permission from the likes of you.”
“Arrogant cur! You would be wise not to disrespect me in my place of business!” “Were I you, I would not be so quick to claim this cesspit.”
As Obrik’s face darkened in anger, Tijodrin sensed a surge of movement from behind him. He hunched his body forward so that the fist intended for the back of his skull found only air. Grabbing the edge of the table with both hands, Tijodrin shoved it into Obrik’s ample chest. Then he swept up the chair and turned to swing it at the bodyguard behind him.
The chair was poorly made, shattering against the man’s body and doing nothing more than momentarily stunning him. Tijodrin was on the man as quick as a panther. He unleashed a pair of punches to the bodyguard’s stomach that had him doubling over. As the man’s head came down, Tijodrin’s knee came up, cracking the bodyguard’s jaw like an eggshell.
Pushing the collapsing guard away from him, Tijodrin moved to face the second guard. The giant had drawn his short sword and was advancing on Tijodrin with loud curses. Tijodrin brushed aside the sword with his sleeve shield, then drove the heel of his hand into the bodyguard’s nose, crushing it in a spurt of red. A heavy clout from the sleeve shield smashed against the bodyguard’s head, knocking him to the floor. Meanwhile, Obrik had pushed the table away and was shouting for aid. From one of the tavern’s back rooms came the hurried thumping of booted feet. With a swift kick, Tijodrin sent the table smashing into Obrik’s body again, then turned to face the new threat.
Three more men burst into the room, their steel already bared. Tijodrin’s sword hissed ominously out of its scabbard as the men charged him in a mad rush. He knocked aside the first blade, letting the attacker’s haste carry him past.
Ducking under the swing of the second man, Tijodrin lunged forward, his blade sliding easily between the man’s ribs and plunging out of his back in a gout of blood. In one fluid motion, Tijodrin pulled his sword free and spun to catch the descending blow of the third swordsman.
With a deft flick of his wrist, he sent his opponent’s weapon clattering to the floor. Before the man could react, Tijodrin’s sword was chopping clear through his forearm. Screaming in pain, the man stumbled back against the wall, spewing crimson.
The first swordsman came after Tijodrin again, swinging his weapon hesitantly. Dodging to the side, Tijodrin brought his sword flashing down to slice through the back of the man’s ankle. He dropped his sword and fell shrieking to the floor, his bloody foot flopping uselessly. Tijodrin silenced him with a hard crack to the side of the head with the flat of his blade.
The two huge bodyguards were now beginning to recover their wits, and their feet. The first wobbled upright, groaning and clutching at his shattered jaw. Tijodrin sent him back to the floor with a brutal kick that cracked his kneecap. A second kick cracked at least one rib. The other giant flailed wildly at Tijodrin with his short sword, his face a mask of blood. Tijodrin lunged swiftly at him, his sword piercing the man’s shoulder. Another clout to the bodyguard’s head with the sleeve shield tumbled him down onto his comrade.
Springing over the fallen pair, Tijodrin brought his sword whistling down in a two-handed blow that hacked Obrik’s table in half. Kicking aside the broken halves, he placed the tip of his sword under Obrik’s bulging chin. Rage and fear battled in the man’s eyes as his henchmen’s blood trickled down the length of the blade to stain his throat.
Beside him, the girl was curled up in a ball, whimpering softly. The barman and the other patrons were cowering out of sight, while the mongrel in the ruined fireplace slept on. There were no further sounds of reinforcements, only the painful moans of the wounded and the dying.
“Our business here is concluded,” Tijodrin said in a low, menacing voice. “I want no further trouble from you or I will return and burn down this fetid hovel with you still inside.”
Slowly and deliberately, Tijodrin wiped his sword across the shoulder of Obrik’s tunic, removing the remaining blood from the blade. With one last withering look around, he carefully backed toward the door, not sheathing his sword until he was outside the tavern.
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