A horde of homrihan

Once a month, I post a section from my fantasy series The Adventures of Siskin and Valderan. These books are still yet to be published but I am optimistic that we can make the final push this year. There are a few irons in the fire, and we’re not down to the embers yet.

In the meantime, here is a fragment from my second book, Rise of the Homrihan. The homrihan, wild animalistic creatures from the north, are bearing down on a river fort. This structure is the last line of defence for the city of Becklingberg, and our heroes, Siskin and Valderan, have been roped into its defence:

The horde hungered. In their own country, the rocky comargue, the homrihan lived a solitary life. They rarely saw their fellows, rarely spoke, rarely met except for wild orgies that took place in accordance with the phases of the moons. Many lived by hunting. Alone, they could capture their prey unawares. Others ruled over sannisart slaves, pitiful wretches like Laghan, but even more pinched and starved. These would farm a few mangy sheep or goats for a homrihan and its broodmare. But now together, in this giant horde, there was little food to be had. Every living thing could sense them from far away. The forest animals had fled. The burrowing animals retreated deep below the ground. Even insects hid in fallen leaves or broken twigs, as the sound of many paws boomed across the earth. Above them, carrion birds followed, far out of reach of anything earthbound. Nothing would come near the horde, and so there was no prey. But the homrihan could not return to their own land, for it was becoming a barren place. Dry winds blew, dust swirled, and the wandering herds had dwindled into nothing. There was only one place that could feed such numbers: a human city, or a human town. So now the homrihan were sweeping down from the highlands into places where they had never been seen before.

Without orders, they lay on the ground waiting. They rarely looked at their fellows, and when they did, they snarled. Spittle swirled around their exposed gums. Their fore claws scratched the earth and their stomachs rumbled with hunger. Some had not eaten for the best part of a month. This was a different horde to the one that had conquered Plouver. In their flight south, these homrihan had come across few farmsteads. There had never been enough to feed everyone. From time to time they had found tethered beasts or animals in a barn. Trapped and defenceless, these horses and cows had bellowed in terror as the homrihan fell upon them. A feeding frenzy had erupted, with homrihan fighting homrihan in their desperation to rip their victims apart. Some of the waiting horde bore the wounds of these challenges: bald patches in their fur, deep purple scars, a torn ear or a missing eye with a slow, dark discharge.

As dawn broke, their few red banners fluttered in the wind, wretched pieces of cloth wound around saplings. Each had been seized from human homes because they had been dyed in that particular shade of scarlet that drove the homrihan mad. The few homrihan that held these flags now started to wave them in the air. As one, the horde moved forward. Their muscles rippled. Jaws snapped. Legs kicked. Ears went back and snouts pointed at the river fort and its unseen defenders.

Valderan waved a command to the others. Everyone moved into position. Above, they could hear the scraping of wheels as the cannons were being sighted. Everard’s face appeared above, and gave them a signal. At once, all four opened fire with their pistols. Siskin shot at the first homrihan he saw. The bullet hit it in the forehead, and it fell dead to the ground. Valderan blasted another in the chest and shoulder. It slumped on its side, whirling its legs in pain. Everard shot and missed. Above them, Brock shouted and the cannons blasted into the crowd below.

Wildly, the homrihan rose up, oblivious to these early losses. They began charging downwards, first to the river, ignoring the fort. The air was full of their yelps and howls and cries. With trembling eyes and stern faces, the defenders reached for new weapons and took aim again. The battle for the river fort had begun.

(c) Alastair Savage 2012

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