The Black Hawks by David Wragg – EXCERPT
Today I am super excited to share an exclusive extract from The Black Hawks – David Wragg’s daring and deviant debut, set to be let loose on 3rd October 2019.
I’m currently reading this one, and am about halfway through, so it’s a little early for a full review, but I’m really enjoying it so far. In short: The titular Black Hawks are a mercenary company charged with delivering a prince, and his reluctant ‘bodyguard’, to their employers. The story is told from the perspective of the ‘bodyguard’, who is neither the most capable nor reliable of characters, which only adds to the fun!
It strikes me as Jalan from Mark Lawrence’s Prince of Fools joins Nicholas Eames’ Kings of the Wyld to escort a silver-spoon sir to safety. It’s not taking the genre in any ground-breaking new directions, but it’s not taking itself too seriously either, and it revels in that fact. There’s plenty of ‘stick ’em with the pointy end’ moments of hilarity – the banter is strong with this one – but there’s also room for suitably poignant breaks in the action.
And speaking of action, let’s jump right into it! We’d love to hear what you think about the extract, so please comment with your thoughts, and don’t forget to like and share on social media!
Excerpt from THE BLACK HAWKS by David Wragg
The mid-morning sun, kept low in the northern sky over the sea by autumn’s arrival, gleamed from the gentle waves of the bay. But where sea should have followed, the neck of the bay was blocked by a giant black vessel: long, wide and low, a floating fortress of dark wood and metal, its sails and oar banks crimson and gilded with silver. A pair of smaller vessels, just as dark, trailed it like ducklings. Chel guessed even the smallest would have rivalled the largest ship currently moored in the harbour. The main ship could have sailed over the grand duke’s pleasure barge without scratching its hull.
They didn’t seem to be advancing. The dark ships sat out to sea, riding the waves up and down in place, anchors dropped, while the terrified bells rang out around the bay. A small boat, black flag of truce fluttering from its prow, had dropped from the largest ship and was rowing into the bay beneath the watching eyes of the port’s population, and the swivelling half-dozen giant skein-bows on the headland sea-fort. From the other direction came the duke’s barges, moving to encircle it, the tin hats of crossbowmen glinting from their decks.
‘What are they? Who are they?’ Chel asked, his eyes not leaving the floating fortress.
Heali’s brow was slick, his breath short. ‘Norts, boy. The black ships of the Norts have come for us.’
‘Is it an invasion?’
‘It’s a blockade!’
‘But if Denirnas Port is closed, it’ll be nothing but river traffic ferried up from Sebemir! The north will starve!’
In the port, the bells faltered, then one by one they stopped. Perhaps the operators were now watching the scene in the bay, or piling their worldly goods onto a mule and making for the mountains. Two fluttering objects had risen from the main deck of the giant Nort vessel, like outsize birds with wings of spider-silk. They glimmered and glistened, borne aloft on the inland breeze, anchored by thin ropes or cables to the vessel beneath. The silk-birds soared up and over the little boat and the approaching barges, twinkling beneath as if they carried lanterns.
‘What in hells do you suppose those are, Master Chel? Totems? Decorations?’
‘If they’re sails, they’re very small and very far away.’
A further commotion ran through the crowd like a wave. ‘Oh joy,’ muttered Chel as he watched ducal guards pushing their way to the promontory. ‘The grand duke and his entourage are here. I’m sure everything will be just fine now.’
‘You sound a touch insincere, Master Chel.’
‘Call me judgemental, but if three years in Sokol’s service have taught me anything it’s that the more skivvies, flunkies and lickspittles that surround a lord, the less contemplative their decisions.’ And that’s without counting his repellent offspring, he added to himself.
Something had happened out in the bay. One of the seneschals gasped, ‘Beneath a flag of truce no less!’ Others around him shushed and jeered. The duke’s barges had fired on the little Nort boat. Then the mutterings rose in pitch and urgency. ‘What in hells!’ a guardsman shrieked. Chel turned from the prelate and peered out over the jostling assemblage, toward the harbour.
The floating silken birds were spewing flame. Streams of liquid fire poured from the sky, dousing the duke’s barges. Screams filled the air as the flaming mass gushed over them, the men within scrabbling overboard as the flames roared up. Tin hats glinted on the waters of the bay, while gobbets of fire spat and hissed, burning on the surface.
‘Witchfire!’ came the cry along the battlements.
Something flew out from the black ship, something like a fireball, trailing bright flame and black smoke. The fireball shot over the water, faster than a skein-bolt, screaming like a demon. It smashed into the headland below the sea-fort, exploding in white and crimson flame and sending chunks of rock soaring into the air, stone splashing out into the bay.
Chel tumbled and skittered, his heart galloping up his throat in what felt like a desperate bid to escape. ‘What in all the saints . . .?’
Another fireball launched from the black ship, then the turret ahead of him exploded. The blast showered flame and stone across the walls as the turret’s skein-bow, arms burning, pitched over the collapsing battlement and dropped into the bay. A wall of choking smoke blew over the rampart, forcing Chel to hunch and gasp, while stone shards and pebbles rained down around him.
Chel wiped at his eyes and pushed himself to his feet as another explosion rocked the stone beneath him. ‘Fuck. This.’
As smothering clouds of smoke and ash billowed over the walls, Chel ran.
He dropped from the wall above the stables. There were still horses left, although not for much longer: already palace staff were tussling with liveried riders over the ownership and use of those that remained.
A narrow, two-wheeled cart stood just beside the stable arch, abandoned midway through unloading supplies for the kitchens from the look of it. It stood, facing the wrong way, a burly, bored-looking mule hitched before it. A dusty cloak lay across the driver’s bench.
He jumped up to the cart and threw the cloak over himself. Sweating from the morning’s heat, the strain of the chase, the Nort attack and now cart-theft to boot, Chel geed the reins and drove the cart and mule forward, wheeling around the stables and toward the main courtyard and the outside world.
Chel couldn’t keep his hands tight on the reins. They shook and slipped with his still-thumping heartbeats as well as with each rut on the road. He’d joined the main road out to the provinces, but all around him people surged, creating a long line back to the city.
A cloaked figure poked his head out from the crates in the back of the cart. ‘Why are we slowing?’
‘Argh! Who in hells are you?’ Chel shrieked.
‘We’ve been invaded! Invaded! They’re going to kill us all! Why aren’t we going faster?’
‘Because this road is full of people, you plank. I’d rather not tip this thing and kill us and them before we get anywhere.’
Something about the way his companion stiffened when he’d called him a plank bothered Chel. ‘Who are you? Why were you hiding in this cart?’
The figure pulled back his hood and looked up at him. Chel’s insides congealed. He looked back at the pallid face of the hang-dog prince, the runt of the litter: Tarfel Merimonsun, Junior Prince of Vistirlar.
‘Five bloody, blasted hells . . .’
‘Why aren’t we going faster?’ shrieked the prince.