Action scenes make me nervous, but I’m taking a risk and sharing one from chapter 9 of Seeker. Sorry to leave you with a cliffhanger.
Evander looked around him. To his right was the Fayrewood. He could just make out the first line of trees, splashing color over the gray landscape. Soon, the pink blossoms would give way to tight buds and then to clear green leaves. Evander wanted to see them when they opened. He could just hear the roar of the wind in the treetops over the din of the villagers and visitors crowded behind him. They called and shouted and speculated, their torches and lanterns a chaos of shifting light. Ahead of him was a dim, broad plain. Beyond, out of sight, stretching impossibly high, until their peaks were lost in Shadow, were the mountains. And somewhere, far ahead and to his left, the falls spilled over a lofty crag in ceaseless thunder.
Rogue stamped beneath him, sensing his anxiety. Frost was nearby, looking as skittish as her competitor. Knox did nothing to calm her. He was not drunk, but neither was he sober. Evander wished he would take this challenge seriously, win it cleanly, and have done with it. It was a vain hope. Knowing Knox, he’d concoct some other reckless plan before the close of Market Day. It made Evander wonder, yet again, if he’d lavished his unflinching loyalty on all the wrong people.
“Would ya like ta make a wager, my friend?” Knox asked.
“No,” Evander replied.
“You’re seated beside a champion, Evander. Why not at least earn some reward fer engaging in this hopeless contest?” Knox raised his brows, spreading his hands magnanimously.
Evander offered him a level gaze. “Alright then, Knox. I forfeit. I surrender. Let us be done with this.”
Knox grinned and motioned for the Magistrate. Nolan positioned himself in front of Rogue and Frost, facing back toward the crowd.
“Torches ready?” he asked. Knox and Evander nodded. They were accustomed to carrying torches, in turns, when they hunted. It took no small strength to carry a torch aloft for an hour or two at a time. But these men were fierce, and hardened by many years’ journeys, and both were expert at riding with one hand.
“Horses ready?” Nolan asked. Frost gave an impatient whinny, and tense laughter rippled through the crowd. The men nodded.
Nolan took a step back, raised a lantern in front of him, and spoke softly. “Knox?” he asked, searching Knox’s face. Knox gave him a defiant grin. “Evander?” He held Evander’s eyes for just a little longer. Evander nodded.
The crowd was silent, every breath held. The torches flickered, and far off, the falls thundered. Nolan opened the glass door at the back of his lantern and blew a little puff of air. The flame was gone. And the horses were off, their riders spurring them on at a maddening pace.
Evander could hear the shouts and cheers behind him, but the pounding of the horses’ hooves quickly drowned out all other sound but the roar of the falls. He knew that the crowd was following the progress of the torches. It was the only way to gauge the race in such scant light. Even then, the torchlight would be swallowed by mist and darkness before ever the riders reached the falls.
The falls and back, Evander thought. The falls and back. He pushed everything else from his mind and concentrated on his goal. He ignored Knox’s wild laughter, ignored the protest of the torch fires as they struggled against the wind, ignored the panting of his beautiful black horse. His face was set, the muscles in his legs gripping his seat, one hand clutching the torch and the other holding the reins.
Frost pulled ahead, but Rogue dogged her heels. The Fell horses were finding their rhythm, eating up the land between the village and the Pallid Peaks.
A gust of icy wind came careening out of the mountains, and Knox’s torch was snuffed out. Evander rose in his saddle, eyes strained on the figure that pushed ahead into the thickening dark without the slightest hesitation.
“Come on, Rogue,” he said. “We can’t lose ‘im.”
He urged the animal forward, into the roar of the approaching waterfall, into the mist that obscured the ground around it. He came to the edge of the falls. He could hardly think for the rushing din of the water. He stopped, turned Rogue back toward the village, and searched the mist for some sign of Knox. Evander lifted one foot from its stirrup, preparing to dismount. Then, a shadowy form shot past him, laughing, the mist swirling in his wake. Evander growled and set off after Knox. There was no torch to follow, and the lights of the village were not visible from this distance. As near as he could judge, he pointed Rogue south and east, and leaned in to the pursuit.
After a moment, he thought he could just see the vague outline of Knox and Frost. “Let’s go, Rogue!” The falls and back. The falls and back.
A gust of wind, not icy but torrid, extinguished Evander’s torch. He was riding blind. He could not make out the lights of Holt, could see no sign of his friend. The world around him was gray. And blue.
The air stilled to the slow pulse of great wing beats. Screams broke over the roar of the falls, and Evander’s blood went cold. Two Dragons belched blue fire in waves that lit the open plain. Evander saw Knox, perhaps thirty paces ahead. The village was within sight now, its many-colored lights suddenly bathed in the blue of Dragon fire.
Evander spurred Rogue onward, clenching the sides of the horse with his knees, holding tightly to the darkened torch. The air above was hot and foul, and he could think of nothing but his goal. The falls and back.One Dragon swooped down on the assembled crowd. Its immense wings, as ragged and black as if they’d been torn from the Shadow itself, blotted out the lights of the village. Evander could hear distantly, faintly, the cries of his people.
But the other Dragon seemed set on pursuing him alone. The beast swept in on his left, rose, descended on his right. It was toying with him, scorching the grass on either side of his path. Rogue screamed in terror, his eyes wild. Evander was consumed with pity for the horse he could not save, the people he could not reach. A fire was kindled in him. His face shone with it. He leaned against Rogue’s neck and shouted in his ear, “Straight on, Rogue!”
The Dragon pulled back. Its wings beat the air, preparing for a dive. Evander wrapped the reins around the palm of his left hand. He pressed his right hand, still gripping the torch, against the horn of the saddle. He lifted one foot, then the other, onto Rogue’s back. His feet pivoted, turning him around, and he fell into the saddle with his left arm behind him and the reins held at his back.
Overhead, blue eyes marked him.
“NO MORE GAMES, WORM!” he roared. “COME AND GET ME!”
A sound like the shattering of a mountain of glass broke from the Dragon’s throat. Wave upon wave of blue flame billowed down. Evander thrust his torch into the fire until it caught. He dropped the reins, snatched a dagger from his belt, and hurled it into the Dragon’s mouth. The blue fire sputtered and faltered, and the beast retreated.
Now the cries of the villagers rang in his ears. Women and children, young and old fled from the fury of the remaining Dragon. They rushed to their cottages. They cringed in narrow lanes, cowering beneath the eaves. They ducked into the cave in the hillside. Anything to stay out of sight.
But the men among them came out to fight. Evander breathed his relief as he rode up the hill and found Knox, Hallam, Chase, Lachlan, Lorne, and Alistair moving their horses into formation. Two other bands of hunters did the same, and all eyes were trained on him. He carried with him their only hope, for Dragon fire alone could conquer the Dragons.
He rode to the center of each band of hunters, lighting the torches in the hands of the men at the hub of each Wheel. He guided Rogue around the rubble and wreckage of the tables as the hunters lit their arrows with blue fire, then took his place in the center of his own band.
From the southern end of Holt came the sounds of stones crunching against one another, of slate tiles shattering, of screaming and bleating.
“GROSVENOR!” Evander shouted. And all the hunters echoed his cry.