January 21, 2012

The Sons of Zhulkarnein, excerpt

From my latest story featuring Orhan Timur, the Snow Leopard:

The first inkling Orhan had of the betrayal was when the captain got behind Togrul. He made it seem natural, moving as though to let the two steppe warriors past him in courtesy into the command tent. But there had been something in the way the Atreian did it that set off the Snow Leopard’s hair-trigger suspicions.

Before he could warn Togrul, however, the captain was drawing a dagger and hurling himself upon the giant’s back. Togrul twisted, too late to avoid the thrust, but soon enough that the blade failed to find his vitals.

Orhan drew his scimitar and cut the captain down. But even as the man was sliding off his blade, the command tent’s flaps were thrown open and warriors poured out. There were Atreians, fully clad in their heavy armor, and also steppe cataphracts in coats of lacquered leather scales and tall plumed helms. Murjens! The captain’s lying about the newcomers’ identities could only mean one thing. And with that sickening realization came a familiar, hated laugh.

“Wary as ever, Snow Leopard! But this time you’re well and truly caught!” jeered Jungir Khan, Khagan of the Murjens.

“Treacherous dog!” howled Orhan. “I’ll do for you yet!” He rushed at Jungir Khan, but the Murjen bodyguards interposed themselves. Scimitar clanged on scimitar, and the Snow Leopard saved his skull only by blocking one particularly vicious cut with his vambraced left arm. The Murjen cataphract’s scimitar bit through the vambrace and into the flesh beneath, but not deeply. Then Orhan had powered that blade aside and struck with his own; the bodyguard died. The Snow Leopard dove past the stroke of another bodyguard, his pantherish speed his only defense, hamstringing the guard as he passed then sweeping off the man’s head.

Then he was sword to sword with Jungir Khan himself.

Trained by the same swordmaster, honed in sparring against each other throughout their youth, Orhan Timur and Jungir Khan were exact equals. Atreians and Murjens fell back from their typhoon-like path …

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