Etien looked back at me. He was tall by the standards of those around us. And though he wasn’t any taller than me—and didn’t, as far as I could tell, have an inch of neck—I still seemed to be looking up at him.

“Tell me about the castle. How many men does she have on it?”

“I’m sorry, my lord, but I cannot betray her confidence.” I braced myself for the fists. My nose and cheekbones were so sore; I wasn’t sure how much of it I could take. But I was thinking of Madeleine, that first day I saw Etien, standing calmly in the face of his threats.

He didn’t hit me. Instead, before I even knew what was happening, he had grabbed my left wrist and pulled it up. Like Jason rending his way through a dozen at the Wing Dome, he grabbed my pinky and wrenched it back, twisting as he went. There was a cracking sound. I fell to my knees, screaming and clutching my hand, engulfed in a world of pain and shock.

The Count was bellowing at me, but I almost didn’t notice. “Do you think I will stand for games?” he shouted. Bits of spittle were showering down on me. A lightning bolt shot through my kidney as he kicked me, hard, and I doubled to the floor. “You are in my house! When I ask a question you answer it!”

I was panting. Sobbing. I couldn’t see anything; my vision was painted in shades of pain. I was holding my hand, but I didn’t dare touch the finger—it was sticking out at a sickening angle; just seeing it was stirring vomit in my gut. The flesh around the knuckle was ballooning up. An ache, dull but intense, was radiating out of my side where I’d been kicked.

“Hannes,” Etien said, an iota more calmly. “Give me your axe.”

It’s been a busy summer. Not, for the most part, a summer filled with writing fiction, though I did have nice and productive conversations at Gen Con with the excellent Drew Baker (who will be putting the cover on this novel) and Jim Lowder (who, if we can make our schedules jibe a bit, will do a little editing).

So to say Thanks to the three of you who are still checking this blog, I’m posting herewith an omnibus edition of the current draft, complete up through Chapter 16. I hadn’t been planning to post any further chapters until the whole thing was finito, but, well here you go.

Chapter 16 isn’t a particularly long chapter, nor is it (as you might gather from the excerpt above) a particularly pleasant one for Martin. But I like the way it turned out, and it introduces some pretty important story elements (though they might not—strike that: should not—be obvious at this point). Let me know what you think!

Click through for PDF.

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