I found this job interview question to be particularly foolish. How many people say “I’d be a lion, or a tiger, or something really awesome!” My guess is many. I however, am far from any of that. You see, I spent 20 years wearing an Army uniform for the United States. During that time I played soccer with Iraqi kids, also had a loaded AK-47 pointed at my by an Afghani kid, passed out candy and small stuff to more Iraqis. Sure, being in the military you become the apex predator. A force for good- or bad depending on your personality- but I was never a lion.
No my friends. If I were an animal, it would be a sheep dog. The majority of the human population are sheep. Quiet ordinary folks just going about their business. But there are predators and the only ones who step up to protect the sheep from the predators are the sheep dogs. Not a very glamourous animal, but Bugs Bunny made it cool to be one.
This week I take you into part two of the Northern Crusade: Tides of Blood and Steel. This was originally intended to be the 2nd half of , but again, the publisher wanted more. Enjoy this excerpt and who knows, I might just be able to entice you to read a little deeper. Read on, my friends. Read on.
Tides of Blood and Steel
The crunch of thousands of booted feet rang out over the empty plains. Deer and other animals fled at the sound. Night birds erupted from rocks and broken trees long dead. Stomp, stomp, stomp-stomp-stomp. Hobnails struck the ice-covered snow in a symphony of untamed aggression. Baleful horns bleated over the army, accompanied by the whips of the drivers. Ten thousand voices, cruel and filled with vengeance, were carried on the harsh echoes of long past winds.
They came from mighty Druem, an almost forgotten volcano in the heart of the Deadlands. The small kingdom lies north of the Darkwall Mountains in central Malweir, butted against the harsh coast. Ever since what remained of the Goblin race conquered the land, only doom flourished. Once, long ago, there had been a dragon under the mountain. The dragon was long dead but the great enemy continued to thrive.
Evil seldom needs much to take hold. The Dae’shan swept into the Deadlands and wasted little time in coercing the Goblin army to march west into the northern kingdoms. Cold promises were whispered over shadows. The promise of deposing kings and claiming long-forgotten dreams of power and glory enticed the Goblins from their caves. War had returned to the north, finally. Under the masterful manipulations of Amar Kit’han, the Goblin general Grugnak took his army west across the plains.
They marched for weeks on end, often grinding a grueling pace from sun up to sun down. Nothing enticed Goblins more than the prospect of killing. They came with axe and sword, mace and hammer. Scouting parties found villages along way and the army fell upon them with fury. Only bones remained for the vultures to pick clean.
Leagues went by. Ankles were broken. A few soldiers deserted after growing drunk on plunder. Grugnak didn’t slow the pace. Those too injured to keep up were killed and fed to the army. Goblins served no master other than their uncontrollable desires. Lesser armies would break, but not Grugnak’s. He used whip and spear. Fresh lands needed to be conquered. Lands where Men had forgotten the scourge the Goblin nation had once been.
The army crossed mountains and small rivers. Winter deepened, slowing their progress considerably. The Dae’shan returned every so often to check on their progress, berating Grugnak for his incompetence in the process. Each time one hundred Goblins died to satiate their commander’s anger. Worse, they knew the war had already fallen on Rogscroft. Two mighty armies were engaged in an all-out war for survival. Grugnak scoffed at the notion of Men fighting. Neither side would know what to think when his ten-thousand-strong army came up behind and drove them into the ground.
They marched with audacity, daring any kingdom to rise up and repel them. None did. Word of desiccated villagers and ruined villages found way to the larger towns and cities. Kings ordered their armies to form but only in defense. No power in the north other than the Wolfsreik had enough strength to meet the Goblins head-to-head. Grugnak knew that. He placed trust in the Dae’shan, to an extent. They whispered promises of glory too rich to ignore.
The Goblin army presented a long, winding snake rolling across the countryside. Plague and decay followed. They moved at a murderous pace, covering nearly forty miles a day. Those too weak fell away or were killed outright. Ever the whips cracked and the drums pounded a brutal song. The promise of battle sang in their hearts. The time had finally come when the Goblin nation could return to rise again. All it took was a little push in Rogscroft.
An army so large was bound to draw attention, especially one as destructive as the Goblins. Scouts from a handful of kingdoms kept pace from a distance. Careful not to be seen, they counted numbers and whispered prayers to their individual gods. None living could recall the last time such a force emerged from the Deadlands. The portents for the future were ill, indeed.
Hidden among the sparse pines and gently rolling hills, three figures watched the Goblins with unusual scrutiny. They wore pale cloaks that blended with the freshly fallen snow. Leather-plate armor was form fitting and well used. Knee-high riding boots sank into the snow. Swords, lances, and bows jutted from a dozen places. Their sharp eyes peered intently from beneath their hoods.
“This is not good,” the tallest said flatly. “What reason have the Goblins for leaving the Deadlands?”
Their leader shook his head, frowning. “I don’t know, but no good will come of it. What kingdoms lie in their path?”
“There is naught but empty lands from here to the Fern River. After that is Rogscroft and Delranan.”
Cocking his head, the leader replied, “You forget Drimmen Delf.”
“The Dwarves will not intervene, despite their long-standing hatred of the Goblins.”
“Odd, considering they were once the same,” said the taller. “Are you sure we should get involved?”
“No war needs to be fought, or so I’ve long believed,” the leader said. “King Thord has asked for our aid and we are bound by honor to give it. The Dwarves are decent enough folk, for mountain dwellers. Our duties lay in Drimmen Delf.”
“What of the Goblins? That is a large army.”
Giving the enemy one final look, the leader said, “News will spread quickly. They head to attack the world of Men and Men must fight them. We ride for Drimmen Delf. Our war is separate.” For now, at least.