EXCERPT: The Seventh Cadence: Prelude, Part 1
We’ve shared a lot about The Seventh Cadence by Jim Wilbourne in anticipation of its release. But let’s get real. The proof is in the pudding. So over the next 3 days, we’re sharing the first three scenes from the novel just so you can get a taste!
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The Seventh Cadence
Prelude (pt. 1)
Year 200 SA
A long shadow snaked over the plain, passing under smoke and airborne dust, sweeping over blood and sweat and gold-flecked ashes that still glowed even as the fires that had ignited them drifted away. The inferno amassed and expired where the dry grass subsided at the base of lofty rock, and the dead piled where the flames failed to devour them. The Shadow Peaks loomed in the distance, brushing its jagged fingers across the orange and pink sky and flaunting regal indifference to the affairs of men.
King Jeremiah guided Wrathbane across the scorched earth. The horse’s head bobbed as it skirted debris—broken spears, remnants of leather armor, and lost swords. Jeremiah held his breath, inhaling only when his lungs burned. One never noticed the stench of war while the battle raged and passion ruled the senses.
We’ve won, Esther, Jeremiah thought.
High Lord Bendeth, atop his high war horse, emerged from the shadows. Bendeth’s squire, with eyes as wide as two full moons, followed just behind on a smaller but respectable gray stallion, his helm lost to battle, and his hair matted with the blood of the enemy. The High Lord paused and allowed his king to approach.
“You’ve lost your squire,” Bendeth said.
King Jeremiah looked behind him to an empty saddle. In the throes of battle, he’d not only lost his sense of self but lost the lad—who had already lost his own mount—as well. The sword in his saddle scabbard was half drawn. Cut off at the wrist, a pale white and blood-streaked hand held fast to the sword’s hilt in what appeared to be a final, desperate grab at a weapon before the boy was pulled from Wrathbane and slaughtered by Dominion foot soldiers.
Though only hours past, he couldn’t remember if it had been before they’d cleared the southern passage or after. Was it when they’d penetrated the Dominion’s piked battalions, or was it when General Ashinn had fallen, leaving his troops irrevocably crippled?
“So I have,” Jeremiah said.
Frowning, Jeremiah clenched his horse’s reins. Seth. That was his name. He’d met him a few days ago. The boy had only seen sixteen years—too young to even take his mark. And now he was gone. The poor lad.
Children did not belong in battle. He’d see that changed. He’d see a lot changed.
He looked at Bendeth’s squire. “How old are you?”
The squire sat mute on his gray steed, his eyes focused on something distant and invisible.
“Talk when your king addresses you, boy,” Bendeth barked.
As if just awoken from sleep, the squire blinked. “Sir?”
“His Majesty asked how many years you’ve seen,” Bendeth said. When the squire failed to respond again, he added, “Scorch it, boy! Answer him or I’ll have you skinned and pile you with the rest of the Desolate-bound Dominion dogs!”
he squire bowed low in his mount. “I’ve seen twenty years, Your Majesty.”
Old enough to take his mark, King Jeremiah thought. He paused for Esther’s reply, but she remained silent, distant. Safe.
He looked into the squire’s eyes, saw the unbridled fear that clouded his thoughts and the untapped potential trapped within. You were right about this, too, love.
“What’s your name?” Jeremiah asked.
“Samuel, Your Majesty. Samuel Tarkus.”
“You are relieved of duty,” Jeremiah said. “Report to my encampment and tell them the King appoints you for his personal staff.”
“You heard him,” Bendeth said. “Fall back to Stronghold Aear. Do as he says.”
The squire nodded and guided his steed southeast. “Thank you, Your Majesty.”
King Jeremiah sighed and looked to the Shadow Peaks as Squire Samuel Tarkus departed. “Children do not belong in battle.”
“I won’t pretend like you didn’t relieve me of a burden,” Bendeth said. “But he was a man. He’d seen twenty years.”
“Desolate’s Hand was with him. He wouldn’t have survived the final push into the desert.”
“And your apprentice would have? You’ll need more than a lone hand in death’s valleys.”
Jeremiah frowned at the joke. “You were right about my apprentice, and I’m right about yours. He’s smart, but he’s no warrior. It’s not in his blood.”
“It’s good to see that I’m finally appreciated,” Bendeth said, a smile lighting his lips. “Your Majesty.”
Ignoring the thin layer of resentment that the words “Your Majesty” carried, Jeremiah urged his horse forward. Bendeth trotted just behind, following him toward the mountains.
High Lord Bendeth was proud. He would have been the Herre—a king in his own right—of the Ehrel tribe had the Ehrel not joined the Hzorah tribe. And though Bendeth bowed to Jeremiah’s rule, he did so only because he was bound by the honor of his people. Jeremiah knew no other man more honorable than Bendeth.
He could almost hear her say it: “My brother is headstrong, love. Never mind him.”
As they crossed the land, he kept a loose tally of the dead. While it was impossible to truly count, he gave his best guess. Fifteen thousand, more likely twenty. Many of the fallen were the enemy. For every one of the Hzorah troops that had fallen, they’d taken two of the enemy with them. Five thousand at the least. Five thousand men and boys who would never see their families again.
It was a shame, but a necessary act of honor. The Hzorah tribe had given the people the freedom they craved. The people had spoken, and his tribe was all too glad to respond to their call. They would not be slaves to the Dominion’s prophet—to a regime of magic that had perished with the wizard who wielded it.
Wizard Titan was dead, long dead. And freedom—for the first time in over two hundred years—now lived. They’d won the war. And I’m finally coming home, Love.
High Lord Roth joined the procession, with three battalions following a few hundred paces behind. Roth’s leather armor shined dark red with blood. His sword, though secured in its scabbard, dripped blood, shaken free by his gray steed’s prance.
“The Dominion has fallen back to the Shadow Peaks, Your Majesty,” Roth said. “In the west, at least.”
“And near Stronghold Gordal?” Jeremiah asked.
“News hasn’t reached me that the east has cleared,” Roth said. “But I’m confident Captain Rollins has led his troops admirably. The Second League is a fantastic group of soldiers. I can’t speak more highly of any battalion.”
“Better than your own?” Jeremiah asked.
Roth chuckled. “Though I hate to admit it, yes.”
Bendeth sneered. “Allow someone to take their pick of soldiers and of course he’ll come up with something better than the stock. It takes a real leader to pull the average into line.” He inclined his head toward the Peaks. “While your battalions lounged near the Stronghold, mine are making the final push at the Peaks.”
“Had we not,” Roth said, his tone hardening, “the soldiers under your command would have been flanked at both the north and south.”
“We were prepared for that,” Bendeth said, obstinate as ever.
“Enough,” King Jeremiah said. “We all have our part to play.”
The sun dipped behind the mountains as they neared the valley. As if Desolate’s own hand had carved out the great wall of rock and dirt and snow, the lowlands between the Shadow Peaks twisted between the cliffs. Trees peppered the lands at the valley’s mouth but thickened as they entered the heart of the mountains. On the far side, they’d taper again until the vast wilderness beyond the mountains choked the life from the dirt and only sand remained as the world came to an end.
The thick of the valley would slow the Dominion substantially. This would also mean a slowed chase for his troops, but Hzorah soldiers were nothing if not resilient. The Ehrel and many other smaller tribes who’d joined the Hzorah had given rise to the greatest force the world had ever known, proving themselves worthy of the Hzorah tribe’s respect.
The chase through the mountains would last days. They would lose men. Not only to small encounters with the Dominion troops as they nipped at their heels, but also to the exhaustion and thirst and dangerous terrain. They had precious little food and water among them, and their nights would be sleepless. At most, there may be an intermittent hour to allow the horses a rest.
The war sparked when Adonijah, his grandfather and warrior king of the Hzorah tribe, eradicated the Dominion from the Hzorah tribe’s borders. The war continued as his father, Gillan, forged a pact with the neighboring tribes to help them push out the Dominion’s oppression from their lands. And though Gillan died young, Jeremiah carried the torch all the way to the very end of the world. A few more days would be the very least of this war.
King Jeremiah turned to see a soldier riding through the ranks. Swords were drawn, then lowered as they recognized the Hzorah mark on his dark leather breastplate. The soldiers parted, allowing him through. As quickly as his horse stopped, he dismounted and bowed.
“Your Majesty,” he said, then rose to face his king. He reached into his satchel and pulled forth a small piece of parchment. “An urgent message from the Crown City.”
King Jeremiah met High Lord Roth’s eyes before reaching down and taking the message from the courier. “It couldn’t have waited?”
“I was explicitly instructed to bring you the message no matter where you were, no matter how far I must journey, Your Majesty.”
Jeremiah unfolded the parchment and scanned the words. A chill fell over him as if a bitter wind tore over the land and through the cloak and leather armor. He tucked the message under his chest piece.
“I’m going back.”
“What?” Bendeth frowned. “Surely, it’s not—”
“What’s wrong, Your Majesty?” Roth asked.
“It’s Esther,” Jeremiah said. “She’s not well. She’s in labor.”
“She’s not the first woman to have had a child,” Bendeth said. “She will be fine.”
“She’s not fine,” Jeremiah said.
“That’s the risk that must be taken when giving birth,” Bendeth said. “You know that. We have to march on now. It’s too late to turn back.”
“I’m sure she’s fine, Your Majesty,” Roth said. “There are great healers at the palace.”
“She’s not fine,” Jeremiah said. “This isn’t the same. There is something very wrong. She might die.”
“Countless things have gone wrong,” Bendeth said. “Look around you. Thousands of men died today. And now we have to make sure there will be no more of it.”
“She’s your sister, Bendeth!” Jeremiah glared at Bendeth. “Not some mistress who quelled my lust for a night and carried my bastard. We’ve won the day. You don’t need me to lead the charge.”
Bendeth’s lip curled. “Esther was a peace offering. You don’t have to act as though you care for my sake. Did you lose your honor with your squire? The King must—”
“The King must do what he sees fit.” As king, Jeremiah could have had Bendeth killed for that remark, but too much death had visited them today. Instead, he turned his horse to the south. Peace offering or not, he loved her. He never thought he would, but he did, and there was little more he could do here with his men. The codes demanded that he stay, but his heart … his heart said otherwise. “I’m going back. Roth, Bendeth, see to it that the Desolate-bound dogs don’t sleep until the wasteland consumes them.”
High Lord Roth dipped his head. “Yes, Your Majesty.”
High Lord Bendeth refused to speak.
King Jeremiah guided his stallion past his troops. Each man bowed his head as he passed, but Jeremiah did not acknowledge them. His mind was elsewhere. His thoughts belonged to Esther and his second born. With a quick squeeze of his legs, he spurred Wrathbane into a gallop.
Come back tomorrow to read the next scene!
THE SEVENTH CADENCE drops on Oct. 8th, 2021. But you can order it right now here.