Just because you're chosen, doesn't mean you want to be
Nicolas loves his village life just the way it is, everything as it's supposed to be.
When he is chosen for a task, he finds himself going out into a world he knows little about and feels completely unprepared for. His only comfort is that all he has to do is deliver a message. That should be pretty simple, right?
One near death experience later, Nicolas finds himself in a world of heroes', villains', magic and far too many undead creatures for his liking.
Caught up in events he can't control, he must, with the strange companions he meets along the way, foil a plot that may destroy his Kingdom as he knows it, maybe even the world. Thousands of lives are in the hands of someone who has never even picked up a sword, but at least he knows not to hold it by the pointy end.
It's not just the relatability of the main character, Nicholas, and his pure irritation at having his life meddled with by mystical forces. It's not just the beautiful and varied collection of companions he gathers throughout his journey. It's not even, just, the cleverly woven rivalry of the enemy factions that we're introduced to, indicating complex lore, and richly thought out layers of worldbuilding. What really makes this book stand out to me is the crisp, sharp, dry, and utterly hilarious voice of the narrator.– Amazon Review
The story has wit and style, is full of great characters, heroes and villians, conspiracies and alliances and a great ending. Loved it and look forward to more of these.– Amazon Review
As the first passed, he saw a group of robed individuals who sat dejectedly, shaking with the motion of the wagon. In amongst them was a large shape covered by a red cloak. It was bigger than any of the other people, but he couldn't make out what it was as the tattered cloak covered it completely. What were the collars around each of their necks?
The second wagon also contained people, though more densely packed, with no room to sit. From what they wore, he guessed they were all village folk. These people had chains around their wrists, but no collars. Odd. The villagers all stared off into the distance, possibly contemplating their fate when they got where they were going. It didn't seem like it would be a happy one. None of them looked at Nicolas.
His gazed locked with a pair of pleading green eyes. The owner of them was likely about his age and the most beautiful woman he'd ever seen with pale skin contrasted by short auburn hair. She looked to him for salvation. He could only gawk back at her.
What he needed to do was help her, and by extension all of them. He just had no clue how to do it. Grand intentions were no match for ten hardened fighters. He was barely a match for a slight breeze. But he had to do something. As the final wagon passed him, he wracked his brains. The only productive idea he could come up with was to wait for the hero and set him on the evildoers. Hopefully, he would be here any second now.
'Enjoying your sightseeing?'
Nicolas wheeled around. Behind him were two other riders, very different from the ones who preceded them, more intimidating and malicious.
The one who'd spoken could be summed up in a single word: muscle. He knew this because the man had as much of it on show as possible. What drew the eye, though, was the bearskin cloak he wore, the dead creature's head draped over the warrior's as if it would bite it off whole any moment now. The man's gaze was contemptuous to say the least, but he wouldn't challenge it.
'I do believe we have an innocent bystander of some sort,' his companion commented.
The voice was feminine, but that was the only way he could tell the figure was a woman. She was covered head to toe in sturdy armour, obscuring her form and features, yet even from behind the visor he could feel the fierce eyes watching him. Across her lap was a sword with what seemed to be a rising sun carved on its hilt that drew his eye. To her sides, secured to her saddle, were a crossbow and a long lance.
He knew he was in more danger now than when coming upon the troll in the forest.
'Another for the cage?' the big man asked as he stroked his beard.
'We're on a schedule,' the woman replied in a cold voice.
'We stopped for the girl.'
'She was worth stopping the convoy for. I don't think this scrawny boy warrants the same effort,' the woman retorted as she gestured with her gauntlet towards him. 'Hardly a fitting tribute.'
The big man looked back at Nicolas and nodded with a chuckle.
It seemed Nicolas was inadequate for a lot of things today.
'Maybe you would care for a bit of sport, Grimmark?' the woman suggested.
'I would hardly call it sport,' the big man, Grimmark, sniffed. 'But I will kill him anyway. Unless the lady wishes to?'
'I've had my sport for today.'
Both riders laughed at some sort of private joke as the woman caressed the sword on her lap. It was then that Nicolas registered that one of them had used the word 'kill' in relation to him.
'Besides,' the woman continued, 'it's a lot of effort getting on and off the horse, and I don't wish to expend it on some boy on a bridge.'
'I've told you time and again that you wear too much armour.' Grimmark chuckled heartily. 'It will get you in trouble one day. Warrior women should wear as little armour as possible and be proud to bare their flesh in battle.'
The helmet on the woman's head turned until the visor was pointed directly at Grimmark. Even from where he was, Nicolas could feel the contempt directed at the big man, who seemed completely indifferent to it. 'More than the boy will die on this bridge if you make such suggestions to me again.'
'Don't I get a say in this?' he heard himself say. Why had he spoken?
Both riders looked back at Nicolas and laughed again.
'I promise I won't say anything to anyone' or trying to beg for mercy. You've seen something you shouldn't, and now you have to die. If it makes you feel any better, it isn't personal, just bad timing on your part.′
That didn't make him feel any better at all.
The world seemed to slow in a haze of thumping heartbeats and shallow breaths as fear took him. The warrior, Grimmark, dismounted his steed with more grace than he would've expect from someone his size. After rolling his shoulders a couple of times, the warrior reached behind him and pulled a long-handled warhammer from the harness on his back. Nicolas gulped. The hammer's head was carved into the visage of a snarling bear. Grimmark swung the hammer lazily a couple of times, obviously in no hurry to commit murder.
'No whimpering now, boy,' Grimmark said as he finished his little warm-up and approached Nicolas. 'I will get little enough satisfaction from killing you, and I don't want that marred by you wailing like a baby.'
For the second time, his traitorous legs betrayed him. As the warrior bore down on him, Nicolas found himself stuck to the spot as if he were part of the bridge itself. At least he'd proven himself right that he was the wrong person for this task. Not that it was much comfort now.
The warrior came nearer. This was it, how he died. He'd always thought himself dying an old man, surrounded by family, on the odd occasion he thought of such things. But no, instead he was to be beaten to death on a bridge because of a stick. Feeling a sense of the inevitable, he thought of his mother and father, may the Deities watch over them. He loved them both dearly and wished he'd said so more often. Would they ever know what became of him?
All he could do was watch as Grimmark closed the distance, hefted the heavy hammer high, and swung it down towards him. Around him the time slowed to a crawl, cruelly ensuring he missed no tiny detail of his last moments alive; the murderous glint in the warriors eyes, the tension in his muscles as he swung, he saw it all. Then his whole world narrowed to the leering metal bear head arcing down upon him. Not wishing to watch his oncoming death he closed his eyes. He'd failed in his task, but that shame would only last another second or two.
Muttering a final prayer, he heard a sharp cracking sound somewhere near his feet, coupled with a grunt of surprise. Quickly realising his head hadn't been caved in, he slowly opened his eyes. Then opened them wider in surprise as he realised he was actually still alive. Grimmark stood before him with an equal look of surprise, still holding the hammer, whose deadly head had smashed a stone tile where Nicolas had been standing a moment before, sending pieces of stone scattering in all directions. Somehow, as far as Nicolas could tell, once he'd taken his brain out of the equation by closing his eyes, his body had actually done something useful and sidestepped the blow at the last second.
Fighting the urge to whoop for joy at still being alive, he knew he was still in great peril. The angry look on the big warrior's face suggested life span was now measured in seconds..
With a roar, Grimmark swung the hammer at Nicolas's midsection. Letting his natural reactions guide him, Nicolas jumped back a step and the hammer swung harmlessly by him, though close enough that he felt the breeze from the hammer's motion as it passed.
'Is there some kind of problem?' the armoured woman asked mockingly from her horse.
'No problem,' Grimmark snarled through bared teeth. 'Just taking my time with the runt.'
The woman gave a single sharp laugh, and the warrior's face reddened with rage. Uttering a more passionate roar, Grimmark charged directly at Nicolas, swinging wildly. The warrior was big and strong but had obviously traded muscles for speed as Nicolas found himself able to dodge the frantic blows, even if they did come close too often. He ducked and weaved as the hammer swung from all directions, taking many more chunks out of the poor bridge. It was like they were dancing, though in most dances one participant doesn't usually end up dead.
Roaring in frustration with every miss, Grimmark seemed more bear than man, a monstrous creature with no feeling. Though Nicolas was pleased he hadn't been beaten to death with a hammer yet, the end of this dance was inevitable. With each dodge, he could feel himself getting more tired and a little slower, and with each swing, Grimmark's anger made him faster. Nicolas needed to find a way out of this situation, but he was so busy dodging he had no time to think.
Even as his feet began to move to step away from the next blow, Nicolas knew he was a fraction of a second too late. The impact was jarring as the hammer struck, whipping his head to the side. There was a moment of flashing blackness, replaced by a reality that was fuzzy and distorted. He couldn't control his limbs, though they were moving, his hands reaching out slowly as if underwater, ghostly ripples of motion showing the path of their movement. What was he reaching out for? He expected pain, why could he feel nothing?
Everything around him swayed, except for Grimmark, resting on the shaft of his hammer, the only fixed point in his vision. He was vaguely aware of the satisfied smile on the warrior's face. That was it then, Grimmark's work was done, he was dead. How could he still perceive the world around him? Maybe he was dead and death just hadn't caught up with him yet? Nothing made sense.
There was some pressure behind his legs then he turned upside down. Or maybe the world had turned upside down and not him? An impact jarred his neck and shoulders, and ice cold travelled through his body in an instant. He felt a crushing weight around him, constricting his motion. Everything was now shaded blue and green. Why could he see bubbles in front of him? Was that a fish?