Just a quick note: I posted this excerpt a few weeks before publishing The Prince of Graves, with the disclaimer that some minor editing still needed to be completed. This is the final version that made its way into print.
The Grief of Brothers
A sickly red sun hovered over the jagged hill lands on the western side of the Vendehar River, ready to vanish under the desolate country of the Necromancer Kings. Dehrbane sat next to a fire pit and pulled his deep red cloak about him. The chill riding before the coming night was the worst yet. It seemed as though no amount of fire was able to keep him or the soldiers warm.
It had now been two days since Laveris learned the feint suspected by their brother Ghelan was real. Dehrbane stared into the embers in the pit as he struggled with the shame of his final words to Ghelan and Frey. How stupidly he had mocked them! Although Ghelan had convinced the King to allow them to ride north to the Frost Lands to defend against the suspected attack, by Dehrbane’s insistence they had fewer than two battalions.
We need every man in the west, Derhbane had screamed at Ghelan. Your arrogance already bleeds us of our strength before the enemy can!
The sting of tears rose in his eyes. Dehrbane blinked them away and looked to the west again. A dying sliver of molten crimson was all that remained of the sun. He knew somewhere in the gloom was the masterstroke of the Lords of the Dead, an army the size of which had never been arrayed against Valeot. Certainly the hated Xethicor led this army, but even that was not the whole of the evil coming to meet them. Dehrbane looked to the rapidly darkening sky, searching for the eerie fire the watchmen had spotted the previous night. Of all the sorceries marshaled against them, it seemed the Necromancer Kings had also chosen to awaken the dragons as well.
And yet the guilt would not leave. Mighty and courageous though they were, his brothers faced annihilation now because of him, and with them Ceremane. Dehrbane cast aside his cloak and lowered his hand to rest upon the handle of his sword Tygrist. Although not as ancient as Valehem, Tygrist was forged shortly after the second war with the Necromancer Kings nearly eight hundred years ago. Called the Spirit Slayer, it gloried in the destruction of the servants of the Lords of the Dead. Now he felt it warm to his touch. The enemy was closer.
“Strike us!” he whispered to the darkness. “Get this over with. I swear if we prove the victors I will lead our armies back to my brothers.” The fire pit then grew sallow, the embers black. The chill grew colder still as a wind rose from the west. Dehrbane’s eyes watered, this time from the icy fingers of the wind. He took no note as his fire went cold. His eyes were fixed on the western land he could not see.
Thunder rolled, though the sky was clear and the stars burned brightly. A spike of fire rose in the distance. Then another, perhaps a mile farther north. With alarm he noted the fire was reflected in the river that lay only three miles from his position. Before he could utter a word horns began to sound, tearing through the night.
The enemy was upon them.