Indie Book Spotlight: The Hellborn King, by Christopher Brenning
A kingdom at war. A royal family at war with itself.
After the massacre of his people, Damien Dreadfire leads a patchwork army of unlikely allies against the Kingdom of Betanthia. The alliance teeters on the edge of a knife, as old rivalries between clans threaten to tear it apart. With the help of his trusted friend, Einarr, and a strange mystic, Damien launches a bold offensive that will decide the future of the free lands. Short on time, and even shorter on men, the fate of a once vibrant culture and its people rests on the outcome of the next battle.
Meanwhile, Betanthia's crown prince, Gareth Bethard, faces dangers of his own. With his family coming apart at the seams and a growing conspiracy afoot, he tries desperately to hold everything together. Even as Gareth grapples with inner demons, he must learn to take up his father's mantle as the protector of civilization and defeat Damien’s invading horde. It's only the fate of a thousand-year dynasty resting on his shoulders, after all.
The stench of death hung heavy over the killing grounds, thick and stagnant in the summer heat. It wasn’t the first time Alfrid Valens had seen a dead body, it was a soldier’s duty to make as many of them as possible, after all. But what he saw brought him near to retching. The men had been dead for a week, maybe more, just as the riders had said.
“Looks like they were right.” Eryk coughed, shielding his nose with the back of his hand.
It was a stupid and obvious thing to say, but Alfrid himself was at a loss for words. He stared down at the ruin that used to be the King’s soldiers, their features having withered away into nothingness. What was unmis takable, however, was the eagle sigil of Betanthia on their breastplates.
“What sort of brigands would do something like this and not take a single thing off the
bodies?” Alfrid pondered out loud.
It seemed strange for anyone to attack a Betanthian patrol and not take their pick of the spoils. There was plenty of fine steel, armor, and provisions, all of which could fetch decent coin. Or be put to good use, if one were so inclined.
He swatted at a fly that danced around his face, then donned a crested steel helm over his mop of shaggy blonde hair. Alfrid Valens was the last son of a dying line, and had produced no heirs for himself. His father reminded him of it often. He was every bit the image of Lord Cedric, and just as stony and calculating—though a man of fewer words, if such a thing were possible.
“You know these northmen; they like to kill for sport,” Eryk replied. Alfrid grunted. There was some truth to what he said. The barbarian tribes were more akin to animals than men. But it was Dhuuld Lurrson’s job to keep the peace in Khorrtal and the surrounding lands, a peace that was often precarious. That was the agreement, the price for their relative autonomy. What good was a chieftain that couldn’t uphold his end of the bargain?
“It’s possible.” Alfrid turned away from the hideous mess before him. “Someone knows what happened here, and whoever is responsible needs to pay.”
His father demanded nothing less. Cedric Valens would be waiting at Castle Morden for the offenders to return in irons so they could be promptly executed for their crime. Perhaps a good hanging would help to restore order, since Dhuuld seemed incapable of maintaining it by virtue alone. How could he allow such a thing to happen? Alfrid had half a mind to ride to Khorrtal and wring the old man’s neck until the answers came tumbling out of his mouth. The more he thought of it, the more appealing the idea sounded. Savage folk often needed reminders of their true place in the world, and perhaps a hangman’s noose would be reminder enough.
“I think we had best pay our barbarian friend a little visit,” Alfrid announced. “These are his lands, and what happens here is his responsi bility. Perhaps he’s become a bit too comfortable in his station.”
“Very good, Captain. Should we bury the dead first?”
Alfrid considered that, but the army had lingered long enough as it was. Staying here for a burial detail might only expose them to danger, the same danger that had sealed the fate of his countrymen. “No,” he decided. “We’ll leave that task to the Khorrtalli. This happened on their watch. Let them take care of it.”
The road would be the most direct way to the village, but also the most dangerous. Its banks and surrounding fields were thick and over grown, and could be harboring any number of unseen threats. Even with three thousand soldiers at his back, Alfrid felt uneasy. He watched the tall grass rustling in the breeze, its blades whispering soft warnings. Something about the road seemed treacherous and uninviting, some thing he couldn’t quite explain.
“Shall I get the men moving, then?” Eryk asked.
Alfrid nodded. “We go around the road. And spread them out. Tell everyone to stay alert.”
He climbed back into the saddle as the orders were echoed down the line, his gaze still fixated on the road. The column began to shift and spread out until the men were nearly a quarter-mile abreast. Khorrtal was a mere speck on the horizon, but within an hour, maybe two, they would arrive.
“Keep a sharp eye open, lads!” a sergeant with a large poleaxe shouted to the infantrymen. Thousands of colorful kite shields bobbed up and down as the men trudged through the field, their long spears swaying like barren trees in the wind. The clattering of steel plate and the clinking of mail played like a symphony, though the song was of little reassurance.
Onward they rode. Eryk was babbling about something, but his words seemed as distant as the village. Alfrid was too focused on their surroundings to take notice. He spied a flock of carrion crows circling in the dreary sky, cawing and complaining. It was difficult to comprehend the fact that pieces of good Betanthian men were now in the bellies of those foul, winged creatures. The thought sickened him.
“Wouldn’t you agree, Captain?” Eryk said, breaking Alfrid out of his distraction.
About the Author
Christopher G. Brenning was born and raised in Racine, Wisconsin. From an early age, he has been passionate about entertaining, and started writing short stories as far back as elementary school. In 2003, he became more focused on writing and made it into a hobby. In 2019, he decided to write his first novel, "The Hellborn King". Chris is an avid music lover and hiker, and also enjoys movies and travel.
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