“The Gray Kings” Update & Excerpt

I don’t have much to say.
Progress on The Gray Kings is moving as ever, but painfully slow. I’m still working on the second draft and getting what writing I can done in my free time—which isn’t much.
The price of a 40+ hour work week.

It sucks.

But I thought I’d update the site anyway with an excerpt.
There’s a good chance this won’t end up in the final draft—or at least not in this form—but I figure I’ll post it anyway.

It’s a brief scene catching up with with former Chosen One Katrina Lamont as she seeks a room for the night and finds an opportunity for money ….

Katrina Lamont tugged on the straps of her brace and clenched her fist. She felt the bones in her left hand grind like gravel. The cold weather gave it an extra sting, causing her to wince as sharp pain reached into her forearm. She pictured it as a lightning bolt beneath her flesh, jagged and searing from her fingertips to elbow.

The local tavern was open and hosting a healthy crowd. People laughed and shouted, music played, and she could almost smell the alcohol from outside as she rode by. That, combined with the pain in her hand, sparked the craving for a drink.

She didn’t have much money on her, and what little she had needed to be saved for a room. But a familiar voice in her mind rationalized. She could afford a drink or two. And would it be such a catastrophe if she spent her money on a few drinks instead? Would it have been the first or second time she passed the night in a bar?

It was tempting. Almost seductive. But she ignored it and rode on down the road to the inn.

Hitching her horse, Hyde, to the post outside, she noticed a Blessed Star hung over the door frame. It was a known superstition to hang something holy over the door to keep evil from entering, but it felt like she’d been seeing them more often lately over homes, inns, and taverns. Upon entering, she removed the scarf that covered the lower half of her face and her hat, which made her black hair—save the white streak growing from her right temple—stand in a static frizz.

The inn-keeper, a middle-aged man with thin hair and a large nose, jerked as if woken from a doze. “Evening, ma’am,” he said. “What can I do for you?”

“You have any rooms left?”

“We do,” he said. “Not much, but if you’re just looking for a place to crash, you could do worse. My name is Chet. How long do you plan on staying?”

“Not long.”

He smiled and handed her a ledger to sign her name. Out of habit, she almost wrote Rien.

“There a stable around here?”

“Jody’s,” he said. “Edge of town. But he’s closed up by now. If you need a place for your horse, we got a little something in the back. It’s not much either, but it’ll keep your steed warm enough for the night.”

She nodded and looked through her bag for money. There was enough to cover the room and a stable for Hyde, but she was distressed to find she had little beyond that. Worse, she seemed to be out of cigarettes, too.

“I noticed the Blessed Star outside,” she said. “Does that really work?”

“No demons have gotten in so far.”

As she handed him her money, she heard a commotion from outside. The cordial smile on the Chet’s face curdled, and he quickly stuffed the money under the counter. He then rushed to the door and locked it before dimming all the nearest candles.

“What’s going on?”

She was shushed and told to duck down. With most of the candles out, she joined him by the front window and looked outside to see a group of people down the road. It was difficult to tell in the dark of night, but there seemed to be four or five of them and most were wearing red cloaks.

“They call themselves the Crimson Raven,” he said. “Bunch of thugs and hoodlums.”

“What do they do?”

“Whatever they want,” Chet said. “They rob, they bully … they treat this town like their own personal playground.”

They stood outside the tavern in a circle. Three men and one woman with the red cloaks. The men shoved and struck an elderly fellow, while the woman restrained someone who appeared to be a barmaid. The night was dark, but the unmistakable sound of their laughing and taunting could be heard echoing down the road.

“How long has this been going on?”

“Few months now. It’s getting worse. And the militia doesn’t like patrolling out here after sundown. Too cold, and we’re outside the town wall.”

Katrina then saw a young boy dancing among the group. He too wore a red cloak and stood half the size of the men. His shrill voice cheered his comrades on, insisting they beat the old man harder. When he wasn’t demanding more violence, he shrieked taunts and threats at the barmaid.

“Who’s the kid?” she asked.

“That’s Nico. He’s their mascot or something. He’s a vile little shit that one is … if you’ll pardon my language.”

The Ravens continued tormenting the old man, who by now had been thrown to the ground. The barmaid pleaded for them to stop but was only met with insults. From the way they conducted themselves, it seemed the attack was little more than sport for the so-called Crimson Raven. If anyone else happened to be outside, they looked away. All doors and windows were shut. No aid would come.

With a sigh, Katrina retrieved her black-bladed sabre, named Anathema, and stepped outside without bothering to put her coat back on. None of the Ravens noticed her approach. Nico, who appeared to be no older than eleven, urged his comrades on and seemed intent on seeing their victim’s head caved in. No words were spoken. She made no grand gestures. She didn’t even give them a warning.

She downed the first man, a gangly individual with stringy blonde hair, with a kick to the knee. He grunted in surprise and collapsed to the ground with a heavy thud. The other—a thick, bald man with a bushy mustache—had only a moment to register her presence before his hand was severed above the wrist.

The Raven woman, who had a tattoo of a snake on her face and was much taller and muscular than her, shoved the barmaid aside and drew a knife. Katrina easily side-stepped her attack—though she felt a flare of pain in her right knee when she put her weight on it—and slashed her back. The red cloak split down the middle, and the woman squealed as a vertical cut marked her from tail to shoulder.

The last man lunged with his hands outstretched, intent on strangling her. The center of his face met the point of her elbow, and his nose burst. Blood sprayed down his chin, and he offered no defense as she sliced his belly. Not deep enough to kill, but enough let him know she could have.

“All of you leave now,” Katrina said. “Don’t ever come back. I catch anyone with a red cloak around here again …”

The gangly man got to his knees and looked to pounce on her with murder in his eyes. Without even looking, she slashed Anathema and the man was flat on his back, clutching his bleeding face and screaming in pain.

“… I won’t be as nice.”

The wounded and groaning Ravens tried to collect themselves. Nico however—a thin runt with scruffy hair and piercing blue eyes—looked at his comrades and then at Katrina. “Who do you think you are, you fookin’ bitch?! Do you know who you’re messin’ with, you fookin’ whore?! Don’t you know who we are, you fookin’ cu—”

He was cut off when she jabbed him in the mouth with the butt of her sword. His lip split open and a tooth flew from his mouth as he fell on his backside. He stared up at her with a look of confusion and outrage in his watering eyes.

“Choose your next words carefully, kid.”

He glared at her, looking like he wanted to shout more insults and threats, but just spat at her feet and scurried off. He climbed onto one of the horses hitched outside the tavern and rode off as fast as the steed could take him without waiting for the others.

The Ravens managed to get to their rides and followed. When they were out of sight, Katrina sheathed her sword and stretched her hand. She wondered if it was wise letting them go, but didn’t think butchering them in the street was necessary. She definitely wasn’t willing to murder a child—even if he was a foul-mouthed brat.

“Thank you,” said the barmaid, helping the old man to his feet. “Thank you so much.”

They both looked at Katrina in awe. Other villagers emerged from their homes to take in the sight. The small population consisted of more elderly, children, and men and women who looked like they’d never seen a battle in their lives. Small wonder a gang of thugs like the Crimson Raven could terrorize them so easily.

“Yes, thank you,” the old man said, his eye swollen shut and face bloody. “I … we all are in your debt. Who are you?”

She almost replied Rien. A part of her wanted to anyway, but she took a breath and used her real name: “Katrina Lamont.”

“Well,” said the barmaid. “Thank you again, Ms. Lamont. You have no idea how awful it’s been lately. If there’s anything … anything at all … you need, don’t hesitate to ask.”

A cold wind blew past, igniting the pain in her hand. She supposed the decent thing to do would be to accept their thanks and be on her way. But even a Ghost Princess needed to eat.

“In that case,” she said. “I think we should discuss payment.”

If you’re interested in reading more about Katrina Lamont and her misadventures in Graylands, check out the first two volumes…

The Ghost Princess and The Jinxed Pirate

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You can also give this Character Commentary a look to find out more about her background and creation.

In the meantime, I’ll keep writing and hopefully the next chapter in the Graylands saga will be finished sooner rather than later.


Graylands ©2020 by M. Walsh


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