The Serpent

A Sunday sample from

Photo by Max Letek on Unsplash

The Children of the Seventh Son

The new Dark Age novel

Coming Friday, the 13th of November

Javor’s left hand found a place to grasp in the soft, crumbling sandstone. His boot slipped once, then caught on the cliff face and he pulled himself up, over a lip of stone onto a rocky platform. He rolled away from the edge, raising dust. He willed himself not to cough and moved forward and upward.

Wishing for the hundredth time that the men who followed him had stayed behind, Javor moved forward to where the cliff rose sheer again, many times the height of a man—even a man as tall as himself. Dozens of deep crevasses cut into its side, canyons as narrow as the corridors in a cheap inn. The sun never reached inside them. Javor wondered what did—and what torture of the earth’s bones had produced such a marvel.

“Which way now, Sir Javor?” asked Ionnes, the stout, barrel-chested headman of the little town of—what was it called again? Cromna, Javor remembered. Some little place at the foot of hills in Paphlagonia, whose parish priest had sent to Constantinople for help in exorcising a demon that plagued them.

Javor hated being called “Sir Javor,” too. It was a title that meant nothing. The people who used it did not respect him. They only feared him and hoped to establish their own pathetic perch on some social ladder by acknowledging his superior place on it.

And he hated the fact that the townspeople had insisted on sending a delegation of nine “warriors” with him. “Three times three, to invoke the Holy Trinity. No man can face the evil of Satan alone, my son,” the priest had said. Even in the candlelight of the old church, Javor could see the worn threads on his robe, the dirt on his headpiece. More telling was the light of rectitude in his eyes. There was no arguing with a man who believed he heard the word of God.

“Quiet,” Javor said to Ionnes. “And tell your people to be quiet, too. We are near the beast’s den.”

Ionnes looked confused, and Javor realized that, to the people of the town, his accent was stranger and more barbarous than theirs was to him. But they understood when he raised his finger in front of his lips, then lifted his shield and sword and crept into the nearest crevasse.

He had just stepped into the shadow between the high stone walls when he heard a scraping slither from above. Then someone in the hunting party cried out, followed by yelling and panic from the other eight, including Ionnes.

Javor ran out of the crevasse just in time to see something huge, long and dark disappear up the cliff face. Ionnes pointed up after it. His jaw moved up and down, but no sound came out of his mouth.

“Drakon!” said one of the men, eyes wide. More of a boy, thought Javor. He could not have been more than 16 years old. His face was long and thin, his thick eyebrows almost hidden by an ill-fitting, old helmet that kept slipping down in front of his eyes. His arms looked thinner than new birch branches, and Javor wondered how the boy managed to hold up a shield.

Image courtesy Pxfuel.

I was just 16 when I faced Ghastog, Javor remembered. But I was not that skinny.

“Drakon?” Javor repeated. “You mean, a dragon? Are you sure?”

The boy nodded vigorously. “I saw it with my own two eyes, Sir Javor. A drakon, long as five horses. It took Georgius in its jaws and carried him off like a mouse.”

“What did it look like?”

“Big. Big as ten horses.”

“You just said it was as big as five horses.”

“Like a gigantic wildcat,” said another man. This one looked at least like he was fully grown, thought Javor. Short but with heavy arms, used to hard work. He carried his weapons like he knew what to do with them, which was more than the rest of the men in this little party could say.

“What do you mean, a wildcat?” Javor demanded.

“A face like a cat. Eyes like slits, like a cat. An enormous cat!” said the man. Thomas, Javor remembered.

“No, like a snake. Have you never seen a snake?” said the skinny boy.

“So it was more like a giant snake than a dragon?” Javor asked. The skinny boy nodded again. Better a snake than a dragon, Javor thought. “Did it have claws?”

“No,” said the boy, tentatively.

“Yes it did, Elias,” shouted another man, named Cyrus. He was taller than the others, but still shorter than Javor. His hair was grey, but he carried himself erectly. “Great talons, longer than scythes.”

“It had no claws, Sir Javor. It moved on its belly like a serpent,” said someone else. The little group began squabbling and calling each other names.

“Quiet!” Javor barked, and regretted the way his voice bounced off the cliffs. “You must not attract more attention. There is no way of knowing just how many beasts and horrors are up here. In my experience, there are always more than one.”

The men went quiet, looking down at the ground in shame or glaring at one another. “Is that the beast that has been plaguing your town these past months?”

They all nodded. “All right. We must move quietly, now. It has already killed one of us. The next to make noise is that much likelier to be next.” Javor shrugged to adjust the shield on his arm and loosened his sword in its scabbard. He stepped out of the hot late-morning sunlight and back into the stuffy dimness of the crevasse. Grit beneath his boots scraped against the stone ground. The eight men left in his “support” party clanked, shuffled, sniffed, panted and swore as they followed.

“We are easy prey, strung along in single file like this,” said Cyrus. Someone else shushed him, so Javor did not have to. Once again, he wished he were on his own. They might as well beat on drums.

Underfoot, Javor saw ridges in the sandy floor of a crevasse. Water had flowed here once. It probably does, every time it rains. Ahead, the dry streambed bent to the right and widened.

He glimpsed movement on the floor and then something hit his side. He fell against the crevasse wall, bringing a shower of dust and pebbles onto his helmet as Elias sprang past him, narrow sword held high. He brought the blade down, shouting in triumph. As Javor found his feet again, Elias turned toward him, holding something long and limp in his hand. His eyes shone and a grin split his narrow face in two. “Got it!”

Thomas, the stocky man, was at Javor’s shoulder. “Got what? That little rock snake? Do you really think a snake as long as your arm carried Georgius in its jaws, armour and all?”

Elias’ smile turned downward. He looked at the half of a dead snake he held in his hand in dismay. “I—I saw … I thought,” he stammered.

Javor put a hand on Elias’ shoulder. “It was a good try.” He pushed past, as did the rest of the group, each one laughing or making a joke as they passed the young man.

That was why no one turned when Elias yelled and swung his sword again, clanging it against the soft stone wall. They only turned when they heard his choked-off scream. But they did not turn fast enough to see more than the dark tip of a long tail disappearing up the rock wall, over the edge of the top high above.

The Children of the Seventh Son

Book 2 of the Dark Age trilogy

The year 600 of the Christian Era is the darkest time of the Dark Age. Young Javor the Sklavene has settled in Constantinople, the last bastion of civilization against dark forces that have shattered the Western Roman Empire.

Wielding two special weapons made from the Bones of the Earth, Javor has become the favourite monster-killer of the secret Gnostic Order. As his young family grows, he is sent to distant, exotic lands to eliminate threats and learn more about why the earth is intent on destroying humanity.

Every mission seems to bring more questions than answers—until he finds the greatest danger comes not from forces from beneath the surface of the world, but from the very civilization he has been defending.

The Children of the Seventh Son is the second book in the Dark Age trilogy, following Book 1, The Bones of the Earth.

Haven’t read The Bones of the Earth yet? Enjoy a sample.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *