The second excerpt from The Endless Hills brings us back to Antrey, who has now come north from the Neldathi mountains to come face to face with the war. In this excerpt she’s touring the bombed out shell of Innisport, one of the Truimvirate’s largest cities. It’s been an eye-opening experience.
There was a dull murmur that rose from the crowd. Not angry, but curious and agitated. It lacked energy and didn’t strike Antrey as threatening, although she noticed Effar and the other guards stiffen in alertness. The carriage came to a halt when the driver could no longer pick his way through the mass of people.
“You there! Clear the way!” Kajtan yelled to a group of Neldathi warriors who had congregated in front of a ruined building. They leapt into the street, pushing and shoving people out of the way. No one put up any real resistance, but the warriors used force all the same. When one woman stumbled and fell onto the street, a warrior raised his musket as if to smash her face with the butt of the gun.
“Don’t touch her!” Antrey yelled, jumping up. The warrior stopped, musket raised, and looked at her, dumbfounded.
“Jeyn, this is not wise,” Kajtan said under his breath. “Please, sit. You are far too exposed.”
“These people belong to this city,” she said in Altrerian, ignoring Kajtan and raising her voice. “They have a right not to be brutalized.”
“Aren’t you here to kill the rest of us?” someone, a woman, shouted from the crowd.
Antrey turned and saw an older woman with light green skin standing on a stoop outside a building. Her clothes were ragged and smeared with blood, although she didn’t appear to be injured. She stood straight and as tall as she could. “Why would you think that?”
“You’re the one who started all this,” the woman said. “The one they call jeyn.”
“I am Jeyn Antrey Ranbren, yes.”
“Then why ask if we think you might be here to kill the rest of us? Look around. See what your barbarians have done. Admire their handiwork.” The crowd buzzed, heads nodding in agreement. The mood caused two of the warriors to charge up and grab the woman by the arms.
“Stop that!” Antrey said in Neldathi. “She is not a threat.” They released her and walked slowly back to the street.
“You know my name,” Antrey said, switching back to Altrerian, “may I have the honor of knowing yours?”
“Mida Innis of the Guild of Healers. I’ve lived in this city all my life. It breaks my heart to see what your kind have done to it.”
“This is a war, Mida. Did you know that for a century your people had sown discord between the Neldathi clans, causing them to fight and kill each other in the name of your security? You are in no position to judge.”
“How can you say that? They say you only discovered this because you found a secret book locked in a Triumvirate vault. If that’s true, how does it convict me? The Sentinels and the Grand Council might have known, but not the common people, not these people. Why punish us?”
Antrey knew that Mida had a few details wrong, but on the whole she had a point. This wasn’t the time for a fight. “Are you hurt?”
“What about the blood?” Antrey asked, pointing to the stains.
“That’s from my patients.”
“Are they close?”
“Of course.” She jerked her head toward the building behind her. “Why do you care?”
“I came here to see the progress of the war for myself, firsthand. That means seeing the damage done, which deeply saddens me. That also means seeing those that have been injured. Can I meet them?”
Mida stood, frozen, for a moment. “I don’t want all of them in here,” she said, pointing to Antrey’s guards.
Antrey pushed Effar aside and stepped down from the carriage. “Of course.”
“Don’t do this, Jeyn,” Kajtan said, following her out to the street.
“I have to,” she said. “Keep things orderly out here. I won’t be long.” She walked toward Mina. The buzz of the crowd was gone, replaced by a still, uneasy calm.
“Lead the way,” Antrey said to Mina.
The building was red brick that had been rubbed smooth over the years. It was four stories tall, but at least the upper floor appeared too damaged to be useful. Mida opened the front door and Antrey followed her inside.
Remember, The Water Road is now available at Amazon as well as in the real world at Empire Books & News. The Endless Hills will be released on August 31!