Authors: Flank Hawk
by Terry W. Ervin II
Gryphonwood Press 545 Rosewood Trail, Grayson, GA 30017-1261
FLANK HAWK. Copyright 2009 by Terry W. Ervin II
All rights reserved under International and Pan-American copyright conventions.
Published by Gryphonwood Press
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the written permission of the Publisher, except where permitted by law.
This book is a work of fiction. All names, characters, places and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination, and any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons is entirely coincidental.
Cover art by Christine M. Griffin
This novel is dedicated to my wonderful wife, Kathy, who tolerated the countless hours I spent on the computer typing away. Without her love and support Flank Hawk would never have been written.
Maybe there are some writers who complete novels on their own. If they do exist, I am not one of them. With that in mind, first I’d like to thank all of the members of Planet Ink and Elysian Fields, crit groups whose efforts strengthened my writing and helped Flank Hawk become possible.
I would also like to express my appreciation the following individuals: Jeff Koleno, Sandy Daley, Stephen Hines, Julie Roeth, Joanne Detter, Dora Archer and Bill Weldy. Each took the time to read the manuscript and shared their thoughts, providing vital input as to what was working and what needed a bit of attention.
With respect to the fabulous cover art Christine Griffin created, I am grateful for the chance to have worked with her as she brought the faces of Krish and Lilly to life. In addition, I owe a debt of gratitude to Dr. Silke Aschmann for providing English to German translation, a task far beyond my ability to accomplish. And as far as computer, programming, and technical support, Jeff Koleno and John Burian were on top of it, assisting wherever and whenever an issue, concern, and occasional project cropped up.
Finally, I’d like to thank David Wood and all the staff at Gryphonwood Press for believing enough in my first novel to publish it.
That leaves you, the reader. You’re the reason I wrote Flank Hawk. Thank you for choosing my novel from the tens of thousands available. I truly hope you enjoy Krish’s adventure, and don’t hesitate to let me know what you think.
Guzzy signaled for my attention and pointed over the gully’s lip toward the disturbance in the undergrowth. He grinned, showing his yellowing teeth. “It’s coming for you.”
After listening to the rhythmic rustling for a few breaths, I set aside my spear and drew my broad-bladed short sword. The reeking stench of rotting flesh sent flashes of last night’s desperate battle through my mind. Screams, blood, and death echoed there.
Still smiling, my cousin scrunched up his nose and donned his rusted steel helmet before lifting his heavy frame to peer over the gully’s lip. “Give it half a moment, Krish.”
I leaned against a rotting oak rising from a bend in our sheltering gully and stared at the nameless stream trickling through its bottom. My stomach tightened as the sun’s light faded. The last few nights of battle gave me reason to fear the dark. The faint stench reminded me of the putrid odor that always preceded the zombies. My militia training on livestock corpses wasn’t enough. Walking dead, with pus-rotted skin teaming with maggots, clubbing and grasping, were far more frightening.
Guzzy nodded while checking his broad-bladed axe. “Some necromancer master ordered them forward again.” His face and cheeks looked pressed into his worn helmet. Even if my cousin was heavy, he was anything but fat. Nobody I’d ever seen could hew limbs from bodies like him.
I climbed around the rotting oak and pinpointed the rustling in the tangled vines. With a sneer set across my face to mask my disgust, I held my breath and chopped into the animated arm. My first swing cut into the hacked-off remnant from last night’s horde. The soft ground absorbed the blow. With aim, my second effort severed the hand at the wrist. Then I pinned the writhing, bloated hand with my boot before shearing away its fingers and thumb.
Guzzy laughed. “Masterful sword work, Krish.”
I kicked away the still wiggling stump and fingers. “Yeah, Guzzy, they’re coming again.” I surveyed the woods, peering into the mixture of oak, hickory and maples. They’d driven us back five miles in the last three days, hardly a fraction of the vast Gray Haunt Forest’s depths. Only one more mile south and they’d drive us out completely. “Didn’t want that thing tripping me up,” I said before returning to the mud-slick gully’s concealment.
I looked back behind our skirmish line. Men with flaming torches and boar spears like mine were moving toward our forward position. Their gray quilted armor, like mine and Guzzy’s, was more effective at warding off the chilly spring nights than enemy attacks. Twenty-three men split up and took positions to either side of me and Guzzy. A lot of new, unsure faces were among them. Unlike the shield slung over Guzzy’s back, the ones they carried were unmarred.
Guzzy said, “Let’s wet and salt our blades while we got the chance.”
I followed him down to the narrow stream. I didn’t recognize the two men who took up position to our right. “Are Vort and Darnard still to our left?” I asked.
Guzzy nodded, lifting his blade from the slow-running water. “Danner and Klano fell last night. That leaves only four of us from Pine Ridge.”
I dipped my sword into the stream, being careful not to get water on the hilt. I reached into my nearly empty pouch and sprinkled finely ground salt along the length of my sword’s blade.
Guzzy dipped my spear tip into the water and held it out for me to salt.
My hand shook a little as I spread the white grains. “Thanks,” I said, trying to steady myself for battle. “I saw you cut down Harvid last night.”
Guzzy shoved my spear back into my hands. “That wasn’t Harvid,” he growled before crawling back up to the gully’s rim. “When we get back to Pine Ridge, don’t say anything of it to his ma.”
Guzzy was only two years older, but far more battle hardened than me. This was my first campaign, my third night of combat. I took a deep breath and looked around. Our lines grew thinner. I wondered if the enemy’s would again be stronger, reinforced by some of our fallen.
If Harvid’s corpse had attacked me, I wasn’t sure I’d have cut him down like my cousin did. “Guz, this isn’t like the skirmishes most talk about. Remember Old Lowell’s stories about the three years his father fought, driving back the Great Corpse Incursion? This sounds more like that.” I slid on my helmet and watched the other men preparing their weapons. I’d finally got used to the nose guard. “And Old Lowell is at least seventy winters.”
My cousin gripped my hand as I clutched my spear’s shaft. “You’ve done well sticking and holding them with your boar spear. We’ll get through another night.” Then he nodded and winked. “We’re a team.”
“Guzzy, it takes three to make a true zombie picket team. Harvid fell the first night.”
“And we’ve made it as a pair since then.”
I swallowed hard, summoning the resolve that’d kept me alive and fighting next to my cousin. It wasn’t easy. I was scared through most of the battles, surviving more on luck than skill. I forced a grin across my face. “If last night was a skirmish, Guz—” I started, but stopped when I spotted our new captain approaching, accompanied by a spellcaster.
I recognized the wizard from our first night. His ruddy complexion and red hair emphasized his specialization, fire. The captain looked no more than eighteen summers, same as me.
“Noble’s son,” Guzzy mumbled as he watched the captain approach, wearing clean, unmarred chain mail armor.
I didn’t care whose son he was, as long as he could lead.
“Men, I am Captain Plarchett. Your Lord Hingroar has assigned me to lead the Black Mule Company.” He spoke in a steady, matter-of-fact voice. “Reinforcements will be here by morning. We must strive to hold. If we give ground it will only weaken us while strengthening our enemy.” He sent a hawk-like gaze across the line of our company while his voice gained strength and conviction. “Every one of our fallen they take intact, is one more to march later against us.”
“This speech should be given by our sergeant,” Darnard mumbled to Vort.
“They’ve not bothered to assign another sergeant after Mard fell in our first clash,” snorted Vort. “He was our bugler too.”
Captain Plarchett strode to the spot directly across the gully from Vort and pointed at him. “You, soldier! I have just promoted you to corporal. Not quite sergeant. If you survive the night, I may consider it.”
Vort looked around, then back to our new captain. “Why me?”
Captain Plarchett stared back. “Why me, Captain, sir? Because I just heard you volunteer to recon the enemy position.” He folded his arms. “Go now.”
Vort gulped. “But, Captain,” he said, looking over his shoulder. “They’re marching this way!”
I knew it was wrong to interrupt our captain, but I didn’t think the infraction severe enough to cost Vort his life.
Captain Plarchett put his hands on his hips. “Soldier, I gathered it was your opinion that I lacked knowledge of the duties of soldiers under my command. Corporals are responsible for reconnaissance and fixing the enemy position. Correct, Corporal?”
Out of the closing darkness, a line of two dozen fresh soldiers approached the captain and formed a line to the right of the wizard. I, along with every other man in Black Mule Company, looked about nervously.
The captain relaxed his stance. “I will not order you to your death tonight, Corporal. Remain with the company. Prove your worthiness in battle and you may keep your promotion.” He looked over his shoulder at the new soldiers, a mixture of arms and armor marked them as mercenaries. All looked mean and battle hardened, and each carried five javelins over his shoulder. “Third squad, form with incomplete zombie picket teams and distribute javelins.”
While half the mercenaries climbed down and across the stream before dividing up and joining pairs of soldiers, our captain continued, “We’re to hold this position as long as possible. Reinforcements are on the way. If we must, we will fall back, southwest to the road and to the bridge. The river is up and two companies hold the blockhouses defending the bridge on the far side of the Valduz.”
Captain Plarchett began pacing, and pointed. “We’re defending White Mule’s right flank. Gold Mule is defending the left. Both have received reinforcements.” He looked across the gully into the trees and their darkening depths. “If I should fall, Lesser Wizard Morgan will lead.”
A tall, lanky mercenary with a pock-marked face and wearing weathered leather armor with metal rings sewn into it took position on my right. He assessed Guzzy and me before saying, “I’m a lefty.” He looked at me and pulled a sword longer and heavier than mine. “You’re the sticker. Just hold’em.” Then he said to Guzzy, “You and me will keep them off with our shields and cut’em down.”
I didn’t have to look over to see Guzzy getting red in the face. My cousin was the leader of our picket.
Our new mercenary partner continued, “Watch their eyes—”
Guzzy cut him off. “The eyes’ll tell the souled ones. They can think and direct the mindless ones. We know our business. What about you?”
The mercenary peeked over the rim of the gully. “Name’s Road Toad. No offense, you looked like farm boys.”
I peered into the darkness while Guzzy replied. “We are. But we know how to fight.” Guzzy took a deep breath and let it hiss out between his teeth. “We could use some help. This is more than the Necromancer King’s yearly campaign to interfere with crop planting.”
“The whole Doran Confederacy is rallying to the Lord Council’s call,” said Road Toad. “King Tobias of Keesee has sent Prince Reveron leading troops and wizards.” He stared at us and nodded. “Maybe even serpent cavalry.”
We’d gotten little news in the last five days. “Is the captain right?” I asked Road Toad, figuring he might have come across information on his way here. “That reinforcements are near?”
Road Toad passed me a javelin. “They’re mustering outside of Pine Ridge. They’ll be organized soon, if not already marching.” He handed Guzzy two javelins. “Blessed by an Algaan priest this past sunrise.”