Water Road Wednesday: First Excerpt from The Endless Hills

For this initial dip into The Endless Hills, book two of The Water Road trilogy, I wanted to explore one of that book’s new characters a bit. Martoh is a crook, but he’s in the kind of prison he’s never been in before, the kind that’s landed him in the infirmary. Now, with a war on, there’s a chance for him to get out:

 A few seconds later a gentleman stepped behind the curtain as someone else held it for him. He carried small wooden stool in one hand and a black leather case in the other. His black suit was neat and fresh, implying he had some kind of official position. The fine grey dust from the stones out of which the prison had been built had yet to infest his clothing. “Martoh Isukar?” He put the stool down beside the bed.

“Who are you?” Martoh had long ago learned to be wary of men in clean suits.

“May I sit?”

“Help yourself.”

The man sat down and began pawing through his case. “It really was quite a journey to reach here, you know.”

“Why is that? And who are you?”

“I’m sorry.” The man sat up straight and pulled an official looking piece of paper from his case. “My name is Anea. I am from the Ministry of War.”

Martoh rolled his eyes. “Whatever it is they told you I did, you’ve got the wrong guy.”

Anea looked at him with a frozen expression that said he knew Martoh was the right man. “You are serving a term of life in prison, is that not correct, Martoh? May I call you that?”

Martoh gave silent consent.

“Due to your sentence, you will die behind these walls. Why would I have to think anything else about you?”

“I’m not a killer.”

“It says something very different here.” Anea held up a clutch of papers and began shuffling through them, for Martoh’s benefit, most likely. “It says here that you stole some small trinket from a shop, were caught in the act, and pursued by the shop keeper. As he gave chase in the street he tripped, fell, and upon landing broke his neck. Died instantly, sad to say.”

“My bad luck.”

“His bad luck, I would say. But the court has already decided this. You are guilty of causing death while in the commission of another offense. Same as if you put a blade in the poor man’s back. However, the circumstances of your crime did, at least, save your life.”

“Put me in this cage, you mean,” Martoh said. He tried not to get agitated as any movement caused a bolt of pain to rush through his body.

“Martoh, you have never lived a life in harmony with His Majesty’s law, have you?” Anea let the question be answered by silence. “Although I suspect you never thought it would take you this far.”

“Obviously. It’s one thing to get locked in here for shooting a man or stabbing him. It’s entirely different when you’re here because of a mark’s poor foot skills.”

Anea didn’t take issue with him.

“If you are not here to pin something else on me, why are you here?”

Anea grinned, ever so slightly. “I am here to give you a way out.”

Martoh turned away from him. “I’m in no mood for games.”

“This is no game, I assure you. I am here on behalf of the Ministry of War, looking for recruits. You do know that there is a war on?”

“I’ve heard. I’ve also heard that the Neldathi might have a right to be angry.”

Anea cleared his throat in a way that suggested he would take issue with that position. “I am not here to discuss politics. I am here only in search of recruits.”

“Conscripts, you mean,” Martoh said, turning back to face him. “Typical. Use prisoners to put down an uprising caused by your own damned fool policies.”

Anea sat for a few moments. “Is everyone that cynical in your world, Martoh?”

“In the world I came from, one steals because that’s the only way he has to feed himself or his family. In the world I live in now, any other random person might try to kill me, just to prove he can. Pardon me if I seem a bit cynical when a stranger comes preaching salvation.”

Anea heaved a deep sigh. “Cynical or no, Martoh, you are not a stupid man. If His Majesty was going to conscript prisoners to go fight the Neldathi, why would I be here?”

Martoh had to concede that, but he wouldn’t admit it. “So what’s the deal?”

“Deal? There is no deal,” he said in a way that made it clear such horse trading was beneath him. “There is only an opportunity to serve your King and defend your homeland from barbarian invasion.”

“In return for what? Look, you’ve given the game away admitting that there will be no conscriptions. I get to say no thanks and stay right here. So why shouldn’t I?

“Freedom.” Anea let the word hang in the air while he got another paper from his case. “If you agree to fight, you will be free.”

Remember, The Water Road is now available at Amazon as well as in the real world at Empire Books & News.


Water Road Wednesday: Solamo Renzi

As we continue on here with Water Road Wednesdays, we’ve moved on to characters who don’t actually appear in the first book, starting with Solamo Renzi. That wasn’t always the plan – I initially conceived of The Water Road as having four main characters, but Antrey and Strefer kind of muscled in and took over the joint. The other got shuttled off, but do make an appearance later.

Renzi is one of those. In fact, his story that would have been in The Water Road forms a novella that will be released next year called The Badlands War. As you’ll know if you’ve read The Water Road, the subject of the Azkiri nomads who roam the red wastes up north was a topic of conversation before the Grand Council. The Badlands War takes up that tale. In the process, it gives some background on Renzi.

He comes from a wealthy Telebrian family, although it’s new money, which means they don’t have the pedigree of the rest of the upper crust. Renzi’s father got rich in business and, naturally, intended that his son would follow in his footsteps. Renzi had other ideas and chose what he thought would be a suitable alternative career – the military. Although he wanted to make his own way and work his way up through the ranks, Renzi’s father used his influence to get his son a prime posting as an aide to the general in command in the Badlands.

Renzi stepped right in as a captain, but found himself hamstrung by his superior’s traditional thinking. While he was part of the Telebrian high society, Renzi wasn’t beyond noticing that the Telebrian strategy against the Azkiri continued to fail, over and over again. When he got the chance to see how a Guilder unit faced the same foe, he jumped at the chance.

The end result, as The Endless Hills begins, is that Renzi is now a colonel and in command of his own unit. Funded by other wealth Telebrians, Renzi’s Rangers (he hates the name) is a unit unknown to the Telebrian army – a unit that moves quickly on horseback, but dismounts to fight on foot. He leaves his new wife behind to fight in a war where he may never get to show off all he’s learned.

Thinking on it, Renzi is unique in The Water Road trilogy, as he plays a large role in The Endless Hills (he’s one of several point of view characters), but he doesn’t appear at all in The Water Road and only very briefly in The Bay of Sins. Most other folks tend to hang around a little longer. Make of that what you will.

Remember, The Water Road is now available at Amazon!

Water Road Wednesday: What Is a “Water Road” Anyway?

Welcome to 2016, the year of The Water Road! Every Wednesday I’ll be providing some previews, background, and “behind the scenes” information on my upcoming fantasy saga, due for release beginning in the spring. Let’s start with the logical place – what is a “water road”?

To begin with the Water Road is a river. Not just any river, mind you, but one that is the primary geographical feature of Altreria. It runs almost the entire width of the continent and is navigable all the way. It divides the two races that live in Altreria – the Altrerians live to the north, the Neldathi to the south. They’re related, but very different.

Next, The Water Road is the name of a book, my next novel and first in a trilogy. It’s a story about two women from opposite sides of that river who discover a shocking secret about the way the Altrerians and the Neldathi have treated one another. What they do after (independently) learning this secret changes their world forever.

As I said, that’s the first volume in a trilogy, which is also called (zing me for lack of creativity here), The Water Road Trilogy. It’s composed of The Water Road, The Endless Hills, and The Bay of Sins. In addition, there will be two shorter works that fit in between the novels, The Badlands War and The Trails of the Arbor. More on those stories, the world in which they’re set, and the people who inhabit them as the year goes on.

Finally, it’s a excellent song of very fine album of the same name (that is, The Water Road), by UK proggers Thieves’ Kitchen. It’s got a dark, brooding quality to it (it’s all the strings and Mellotron), but the theme that pops up here and there really soars, particularly when the guitar player gets a hold of it. It’s not an inspiration for the books, but the name stuck in my head. Credit where credit’s due.