So, while I deliberate, I've decided to share another part of To Tread the Narrow Path. You can read the first two excerpts here (Part I) and here (Part II).
I hope you enjoy.
To Tread the Narrow Path
Book I: The Tale of the Little Bird
Part III: The Path Ahead
My first duty was to travel to Sciath's Reach and warn the Lord Akana of the plot against him. I believed my master’s death to be only the first step in a grand conspiracy. Travel to the heart of the kingdom would not be easy. I did not know when the nameless clan would find me again. I knew no one beyond my master and the nearby village. I convinced myself to trust no one on my journey and to travel alone.
For two days, I have traveled under the guise of a peasant. Hoping no one would take notice of me. Near the end of the third day of my journey, I prepared to rest under a nearby tree. Suddenly, I felt my senses pricking. My ears straining at sounds felt more than heard. Muscles alert and ready. My instincts warned me that my surroundings were not as safe as they appeared. In preparedness, I reached into the bundle of rags that hid my weapons, and grasped the hilt of my sword. As I tested the air with my nose, a handful of snow fell onto my shoulder. With sudden horror, I realized what bothered me. I did not feel the wind, yet the trees swayed and snow fell from the branches.
The moment I drew my sword, assassins burst out of the surrounding trees and shrubs. Attacking me with all manners of styles and weapons, I was almost overwhelmed. I held back not wanting to shed blood before I reached my Lord. I would have escaped if not for the blow from behind. I fell to the ground, the wind knocked out of me. As the boot of one of the assailants roughly rolled me over, I looked up to see a female pointing her sword at my neck. Her white mask only showed her jade eyes through two small holes. Her eyes were beautiful yet deadly.
She glared down at me and said, "What are you doing on our road, little bird?"
"I am on an errand for my Lord Akana. Why do you call me that?" Little Bird, my masters name for me. I tried to get up but she pressed the blade closer.
She said, "Are you not a little bird? Maybe a forest demon. Half bird and half man or should I say boy?" Although she laughed mirthlessly, her eyes showed amusement. She continued, "You show promise for a small one. You might have slipped our trap had your defense been fatal. Is that by accident or design?"
"I have taken a vow," I placed all the courage I could muster into my words; "I will not kill unless so ordered by my Lord. I am on the way to serve and protect my Lord."
Her eyes narrowed at me much like a cat eyeing its prey. She said, "A creature of Akana’s clan, no doubt. Who trained you, bird?"
"I am Nightwatch. My master’s sign is a fox."
She took on a suspicious look as she said, "The Gray Fox? The one who is clanless, but serves the true emperor? I know him. Why is he not on this all important errand?"
I knew she would kill me if my answers did not please her. I replied, "He is dead. Slain by the enemies of the Emperor."
Her jade eyes betrayed her shock and despair but also showed that she was still wary. "And what swordsman brought him down?"
With sadness and pride in my voice I said, "Not one. Many. Each warrior bore the mark of the Serpent Rose."
This answer satisfied her curiosity. She said, "Then you may use our road with my permission. We share an enemy. The swords of the Venom Rose rise against us as well. You are the last Nightwatch. You must deliver your master’s message to the emperor."
"Who are they? To whom are they sworn?" I demanded.
She and her companions began to slink away into the shadows like cats. She called back to me, "I know not who they serve, but they are enemies to all. We will meet again, Little Bird. You will know me by my eyes for I am the Jade Cat." With that, she disappeared into the shadows leaving me alone on the path. Always alone.
The mountain road gave way to the sea road that would lead me to Sciath’s Reach. I gave up my peasant garb. I had no desire for secrecy now. I wanted the Venom Rose to know of my arrival. Always conscious of my surroundings I took notice of the travelers I was passing; a woman with child on her back and a man carrying firewood ahead of her. I paused as my instincts quickened. I strained for any sign of ambush. As I held my breath, I heard a sighing from the trees that was not the wind. A creak of wood, the complement of a gutstring. Instinctively, I dove for the cover of the embankment on my left as arrows exploded out of the woods. Dozens of bowmen waited for me in the forest. Their hearts only held murder for me and anyone nearby. The man carrying firewood fell to the side of the road, already slain, but the mother and babe still lived. I vowed not have the blood of a mother and child on my hands. I ran across the embankment to where she stood with the child strapped on her back and grabbed her hand. I dragged her towards a small fishing hut I spied only a few hundred yards away. With waves of arrows following us, we arrived at the hut. It was too much to fight. Too much danger for the innocents. I cursed as they forced me to take shelter, whereas normally I might have eluded my enemies. The fishing hut had all the disadvantages of a trap but it left them only one entrance. That entrance I deftly covered with my bow. I motioned the mother to lie near the back and stay down.
As a plan formed in my mind I spoke it aloud, "At nightfall we can slip away," my fingers and hands were making ready an arrow, "The tide will be high and…" The twang of my bowstring snapping cut my words short. The ‘mother’ was attacking me with a knife but he had made the mistake of cutting my bowstring first instead of my neck. He thrust at me like one unprepared for retaliation. I took his thrust and redirected it into his leg by breaking his elbow. He will live. I will keep my vow. As he fell, I noticed the tattoo on his arm, the Venom Rose. A trap within a trap. Hearing a whistling noise, I intuitively moved my head to the side as two small throwing knives spun past my temples.
I turned to see the babe, a man only three feet high, bearing weapons against me. He tried again to strike me with knives but this time I was prepared. I moved in close and planted two fingers into his neck cutting off the blood flow to his head. He fell over unconscious, sleeping like the child he appeared to be. Knowing that other enemies were closing in, I pried the hut’s floorboards up and dropped silently into the water. I swam out beyond my enemy’s sight and followed the shore until I was a safe distance away.
Thoughts came rushing up to the surface of my consciousness. With a Nightwatch, nothing is as it seems. All is an illusion. Our world is a world of our own making. It is a world outside the senses. A world where trust has no meaning and truth has no place. The swords of the Venom Rose could only belong to the Warlord. That meant that Marcus would move against my Lord. I was bound to warn Lord Akana. My honor and that of my master demanded it.
I hope you've enjoyed these excerpts. If you want to know how this ends, all current updates of the novella are available on Amazon as an ebook. Within the next few weeks, the final installments will be live in the marketplace and a print edition of the book will be available as well.
As always, thanks for reading, and if you've enjoyed, please feel free to like, share, +1, etc...
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