The Bloodbound Excerpt:
Smoke crawled up the side of the bluff, carrying with it the screams of the dying. Alix strained her eyes, trying to pierce the swirling black folds, but all she could make out was the occasional gleam of metal or flicker of flame far below. It was impossible to tell how the battle fared. The cries of men mingled with the screams of horses and the baying of dogs, sounds of triumph and terror indistinguishable from one another.
The only thing Alix could see clearly was the neatly formed ranks of the White Wolves, holding their position on the western fringe.
“Why don’t they attack?” She started to uncoil from her crouch.
A hand shot out and seized her wrist. “What are you doing? Get down!” Liam glared up at her, punctuating his words with a sharp tug.
“What does it matter who sees us now?” Without waiting for a reply, Alix twisted out of his grasp and started along the edge of the bluff. A muttered oath and the creak of leather told her that Liam was following.
She moved with more haste than care, springing between the frost-slick stones and shooting the occasional harried glance at the Wolves. Their ranks remained unmoved—horses reined in, swords sheathed, bows lowered. Their standard flapped bravely at the lip of the bluff, the pole as straight and still as if it had been driven into the ground.
What in the gods are they waiting for? The enemy had long since moved into position. Arran Green had struck, leading his battalion down the eastern fringe to drive like a spear into the Oridian flank. The Wolves should have mirrored the attack from the west. Instead, Prince Tomald White simply sat astride his horse, immovable as a statue, looking on as his brother’s army battled the enemy below.
A gust of wind nudged the curtain of smoke aside, offering the first clear view of the battlefield since the barricades were set alight. Alix lurched to a halt and sucked in a sharp breath. “They’re falling back.”
“Already?” Liam scrambled closer to the edge of the bluff, his eyes widening in horror. Beyond the writhing knot of men at the centre of the melee, the rear lines of the Kingswords had begun to blur, their ranks disintegrating under the pressure of the Oridian onslaught. They were outnumbered, but the Wolves were supposed to make up the difference.
Except they weren’t.
Something cold and bitter rose at the back of Alix’s throat, but she swallowed it down. “I’m going,” she said, stepping toward the edge of the bluff.
“Alix . . .” Liam grabbed her arm again. “What do you think you’re going to accomplish down there? You’re a scout.”
“What of it? You’re a scout, and you’re a better sword than half the king’s knights. I can handle myself, Liam.”
He hesitated. “Our orders were to stay here.”
“And their orders were to attack.” She stabbed a finger in the direction of the Wolves.
“What are you saying?” He knew the answer—Alix could see it in his eyes.
The king is betrayed. The words burned on her tongue, but for some reason, she couldn’t bring herself to speak them. “Look,” she said, “you can either regret not following orders, or regret standing up here watching our brothers get slaughtered. Your choice.”
Liam paused another few precious seconds before his gaze hardened. “Let’s go.”
They threw themselves down the slope, skidding sideways to keep their footing as loose rock tumbled out from under them. They moved as fast as they dared; Alix had to lean into the hillside, her fingers brushing the dirt, just to keep from rolling an ankle. Even so, the descent seemed to take forever. Alix’s thighs burned, and her breath came in short puffs of vapour. Still the slope went on and on. Gradually, however, the clamour of battle grew louder, the smoke thicker and blacker. And then they plunged into the dense wood at the base of the hill, and an eerie hush swallowed them.
Alix trailed Liam through the pines. A light snow had begun to fall, lending the scene a surreal aura of peace. Only the occasional cry or ring of metal reached back through the veil. Alix slowed to a jog, chain mail jingling, breath harsh in her ears. Liam bounded ahead.
A ghostly silhouette materialised through the trees. A horse, riderless, its white war paint spattered with blood. Liam faltered briefly as he watched it go by. Then another figure appeared, weaving erratically among the drifting snowflakes. A man this time, a soldier, both hands clamped against his neck as he tried in vain to staunch a gushing wound. Liam went for his sword, but the man staggered past without even registering his presence. Moments later, another soldier appeared, and another—Kingswords all, their faces taut with fear. Soon, the shadows swarmed with fleeing men.
Liam drew up short, throwing a grim look over his shoulder. It was worse than they’d thought. “Let’s find Green,” was all Alix could think to say.
Liam nodded and turned to go.
He looked back. Alix hesitated, the words dying on her lips.
A tense smile flickered across Liam’s face, as though he understood. “Just be careful, all right?”
They pushed past the tree line, and hell erupted before them.
Posted with permission from Ace Books.