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fantasy novel chapter 31
questing hero novel text online
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Warning: this novel is intended for an adult audience. It contains violence and vulgar language and, additionally, contains at least a little sexual content.

THE WORDSMITHS AND THE WARGUILD by Hugh Cook - Chapter 31

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Chapter 31

        When Togura finally punched through to the starlight, he heard men outside, talking in low voices, their conversation punctuated occasionally by laughter. Supposing that they would eventually get bored and go away, he waited. Namaji, exhausted by emotional trauma, fell asleep, snoring loudly. Waiting in the darkness, Togura did mental revision, working through all the ways he knew of killing people. He concluded, with regret, that his repertoire was rather limited.
        He heard some men saying their goodbyes, and, after that, no voices, no laughter. He enlarged the hole, then hauled himself out onto the roof and dropped down into the darkness. He stood there, listening. He heard insects cricketing away, frogs croaking in the distance, a few muffled snores, and, far away, a horse neighing. It was a dark, cold night, lit by starlight; there was, as yet, no moon. He could have wished for some wind; the night was very still.
        Togura began to slip between the hulking shadows of the mud huts, moving lightfoot-brightfoot through the night. Without warning, a cock crowed close at hand and close at ear:
        "Co co rico! Co co rico!"
        The noise was as loud as a slap on the ear. Togura started, as if someone had sheathed a blade in his heart. The cock crowed again.
        "Who will rid me of this turbulent rooster?" muttered Togura.
        He should have known better than to speak. His voice was low, but it set a dog to barking. Other dogs roused to the challenge. As they barked, furiously, sleepers awakened. Mobbed by angry shouts, Togura sprinted for the village wall. He went over it, ran into the darkness and lay flat.
        Togura knew there was no point in escaping without a horse, for the village men would quarter the country and ride him down by daylight. He had to have a mount. But there was no point in making immediately for the horse corral, because it was guarded; no doubt the guard would soon be reinforced. He lay quiet and still, a shadow lost in the shadows.
        A furious search was soon going on. Togura heard sounds of fighting, then cries of pain from a man. He speculated that a sentry who should have been patrolling the wall had been caught sleeping. He heard a lot of noise from the horse corral. Men with burning brands searched the area near the corral; someone seemed to be searching in amongst the horses. Soon a number of mounted men were circling the village.
        Togura, though he was shivering in the cold night air, did not move until all the fuss and excitement had died down a little. Then he crept back to the village wall and followed it round to the gates. Some men, dismounted, were standing there by their horses, arguing. A dog barked loudly as Togura approached; a man cursed it and kicked it to silence. Someone was urinating noisily in the darkness.
        As humble as a cockroach, Togura went sneaking to the nearest horsy shadow. Closing with the animal, he ran his hands along its back, locating the saddle. He found the nearest stirrup and got his foot in it. He found the reins, took them in hand, then mounted.
        "Wah-Warguild!" screamed Togura, kicking the horse.
        His mount reared. A man grabbed Togura's leg. Togura kicked, and was free. Screaming, he urged the horse to a gallop. A warrior threw a spear, which missed. Still screaming, Togura galloped away into the night. His screams, as he had intended, scattered the other horses, giving him a decent head start.
        Navigating by the stars, he headed north. Once he reached the hills, he would kill the horse then trek over the mountains back to Estar. With dismay, he realised that the moon was rising.
        Sooner than he had thought, the village men managed to secure their horses and join the pursuit. He heard their shouts and hoofbeats behind him. The rising moon betrayed him to the night.
        "Ride, beauty," urged Togura, slapping the horse.
        He galloped the horse until it could gallop no more; fortunately, the riders behind him were having similar problems with their own mounts. The chase continued at a steady trot.
        Suddenly, to his dismay, Togura realised that there were riders ahead of him. How had that happened?
        He was still trying to work out what to do next when the riders up ahead dispersed. They disappeared into a little bit of hummocked land off to his left. He blinked, wondering if they were ghosts, or if he had imagined them all along. No matter. The way ahead was clear.
        But behind him he heard hastening hoofbeats, and realised the village warriors were once more trying to close the distance. He urged his horse as best he could, but it faltered, stumbled, then fell, throwing him. He picked himself up and remounted, but by then it was too late. The village riders, fierce, eager, shouting, closed in around him.
        "Togura!" shouted the headman.
        The name was slurred, but Togura knew it for his own. The next moment, the headman slapped him, almost knocking him off the horse. Then there was an argument. Six riders had made the distance. Some, perhaps, wanted to butcher Togura on the spot. The headman finally mastered them to silence, then began to lead the way south. The horses, after all this hard treatment, could only manage a walking pace; they were not bred or fed to ride so far and so fast.
        "Perhaps I'd better tell you," said Togura. "I saw some other horsemen back there."
        The headman, who did not understand his Galish, swore at him, and slapped him again. Togura, his nose gently bleeding, did not speak again. He had not been on horseback for ages; as a consequence, he was now saddle-sore.
        They were some way back toward the village when, shadow on shadow, horses came screaming out of some hunchbacked wasteland. Arrows sang through the air. Lances rode home. Horses screamed, flailing down to their death. Togura urged his horse away. An enemy rode up beside him, jumped, grabbed himround the neck and took him crashing down to the ground. Togura felt a sickening pain in his right leg. The enemy drew a knife and tried to stab him. Togura fought with all his strength. The knife moved steadily, inexorably, toward his throat.
        If Togura had been made of sterner stuff, he would have devoted all his energies to the struggle, and consequently would have died upon the spot. However, he didn't. He panicked instead, and screamed:
        "Help help help!"
        An enemy, whirling out of a skirmish, heard Togura's voice, and hurled a spear in his general direction. The spear slammed home, taking Togura's attacker fair and square between the shoulder blades.
        Killed by his own side, the attacker collapsed on Togura, who, thinking him still alive, damaged him dreadfully. Togura had just realised the man was dead when a horse, mortally wounded, collapsed on top of him. Suffocating, he fought it. By now he had a knfie in his hand. The horse rolled away, staggered to its feet, managed a few steps, then dropped again and died - this time falling clear of Togura.
        He breathed the sweet cool night air in lurching gulps, sweating with effort, trembling with adrenalin, his heart still doing a decathlon. Somewhere out in the night, someone was being killed, and the sound was not pleasant. Someone, close at hand, was groaning hideously. Togura tried to get to his feet. An agonising pain in his right leg persuaded him against such foolishness. After a little experimentation, he realised the leg was broken.
        "Things are not improving," muttered Togura.
        Then he heard someone walking through the night with a strange, shuffling gait. He decided it was best to play dead. He lay there with his eyes tightly shut, listening intently. Shuffle-foot wandered, paused, wandered, then fell heavily, and did not move again. Slowly, Togura opened his eyes.
        Old Scar Face, the moon, floated above him, cool and remote. Somewhere close at hand, someone was crying bitterly. Togura listened, carefully, and ascertained that it wasn't him. Despite his current predicament he was, for once, dry-eyed and clear-headed.
        Out in the night, some unknown animal cried.
        Togura was still trembling - but now it was not adrenalin which was responsible, but the cold.
        He could see it was going to be another of those long, long nights.


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The text on this page is part of the fantasy novel The Wordsmith and the Warguild by Hugh Cook, which, when published in North America in 1988, was divided into two separate volumes, The Questing Hero and The Hero's Return. This text can be read for free online. However, the text is copyright - all rights reserved. For permission to use this text or any portion of it contact Hugh Cook.

The Wordsmiths and the Warguild was first published in 1987. Copyright © 1987, 1988, 1998, 2004, 2006 Hugh Cook.


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