We may never, never, never come home, but the magic that we feel will last a lifetime. We don’t come alone. We are fire. We are stone. We’re the hand that writes and quickly moves away.
I was recently asked where I come up with the titles to my books. A good question. You see, I am not like the majority of authors or even what writers are taught. Show of hands- how many of you have been told to write the story first and the title will sort itself out? I was, but that’s not how I operate.
I was wandering around a bombed out palace in Baghdad where Saddam was a guest before his trial and execution, and a name popped into my head. Just a name. Pirneon. Ok great, I thought. Who was he? Why is he in my head? The title followed swiftly that night, before I finished my two mile run and before the last prayer coming from the nearest minaret.
Nine times out of ten I come up with a title first. Sounds odd right? Occasionally I discard one in lieu of something more attention getting. I find a lot of quality titles in songs. Especially metal songs. Yes, I confess I am a die hard metal fan. Iron Maiden has helped my fingers fly over pages throughout the years.
The fun part for me is trying to figure out what the story will be about once I have a title, just as it was with Pirneon and Beyond the Edge of Dawn. Here’s a little taste to get you going. Read on, my friends. Read on.
Night had grown eerily silent. The lack of a moon cast a menacing pall over the still sands. Even at midnight, the air languished from heat. Sweat poured down the soot-blackened faces of the hundred warriors lying in the waist-high patch of desert grass. Ever so slowly, they inched forward. They’d been crawling towards the enemy camp since dusk and were almost in position to attack. Their leader gained the crest of a long dune and fixed his spyglass on the cluster of tents. He sighed as much from frustration as relief.
A quick scan told him everything he needed to know. The oversized tent in the center, ringed with partially attentive guards, meant only one thing. The Satrap was here. His death or capture would signal the end of the war. The task wasn’t going to be easy. Camped below were close to seven hundred of the Satrap’s elite. Seven to one weren’t good odds by any means, but Pirneon had been through much worse. One thing he’d learned from his time among the tribes of the Jebel Desert was that life may be hard, but warriors were often soft.
Having done his share of killing, Pirneon of Gaimos knew hard men. These desert dwellers were soft when it came to open conflict. He didn’t know the reasons behind such behavior, nor did he care. What mattered was getting paid for his services. Even now, Barum, his squire and aspiring Knight, was preparing their departure. Desert life didn’t agree with the aging knight.
Anything besides the task at hand was wasted time. Pirneon cleared his thoughts. First the Satrap, then a new job. He glanced left and then right. With no way of knowing if his forces were all on line, he was mired by constant delay. The desert tribes were professional warriors as he had been for his long life. The once Knight Marshal of Gaimos frowned but could do little about it. He whispered orders to the sergeants on either side. They were supposed to be the pride of the Caliph’s army, but he found them sloppy and woefully underprepared for what needed to be done.
Most were peasants in disguise. His opinion of the Caliph left him with vague doubts. The ruler of the desert was an unremarkable man. Copper skinned and swarthy, he lacked strong moral character despite his quest to unify the desert tribes under his banner. Pirneon had taken an instant dislike to the man. But work was work, and so long as the gems and gold kept coming, the knight planned on fulfilling his part of the contract.
Muttering a prayer under his breath, Pirneon decided it was time. Spring had come and, with it, the desert rains. He’d timed the attack in this camp according to the court magician’s weather predictions. It was now or never as far as Pirneon was concerned. He rose up slightly and signaled the handful of archers directly behind. Theirs was the most critical role in the assault. Satisfied they were preparing, he turned back to the camp. Only four sentries could be seen patrolling the outer perimeter, giving him a false sense of security. Once they were dead, the avenue of approach for his force would be wide open.
He thanked his good fortune for having led the scout the night prior. Having been a soldier for decades, Pirneon preferred to do his own reconnaissance before a major operation. It was paying off now. His own intelligence gave him detailed ingress and egress points along with the meager defensive strong points in the Satrap’s perimeter. Getting in wasn’t going to be much of an issue. Getting out….
His biggest ally in the camp was routine. By now, the sentries were already complacent in their daily activities. Soldiers often have a tendency to relax when duties became routine. Routine kills. That was one of the Gaimosian military academy’s main tenants. Pirneon hoped to use it to his advantage.
He raised his arm enough for the archers to see. Arrows were knocked, bows drawn. The moment was now. He dropped his arm. Six arrows thrummed through the darkness. Pirneon’s heart refused to beat. His entire plan hinged on the sentries being killed without noise. Only seconds went by, but it felt like an eternity. Five of the six shafts were true, and the sentries dropped dead.
Pirneon already had his raiders up and moving before the last body hit the sand. Sword in hand, he charged silently down the dune. The soft sounds of a hundred others accompanied him. Pirneon raced past the feathered corpses. There, half of his force split off to the tents filled with sleeping soldiers. He directed a handful to snatch torches and burn the camp. The confusion alone should prove enough for him to reach the Satrap and do what needed to be done.
Cries of alarm went up from around the camp. Flames sprang to life as the dry rotted fabric of the tents burned. Pirneon led the handful of men crowding him. This was the only chance he was going to get.
“Come on,” he snapped. “Kill everyone in the way, and don’t stop until we gain the command tent.”
The soldiers around him slashed their way through the camp with vigor. Pirneon found the indiscriminant slaughter a useless act. It served to slow their advance and inspire thoughts of revenge when the smoke cleared, threatening to provoke a wider war. The Satrap’s tribe was well connected and still had many allies. Any extended violence would keep Pirneon in the desert longer. He despised the desert. Snarling at his lazy thoughts, the Gaimosian hurried.
Slowing to a creep at the edge of the last row of tents, Pirneon got his first good look at the command tent. More than two dozen alert and decidedly dangerous guards were posted by the front. They were heavily armed and expecting trouble. The battle raging throughout the camp scarcely interested them. Their sole purpose was to protect the Satrap. Swords drawn and archers ready, the guards were vigilant. Pirneon scowled.
At least twenty meters of open area separated his raiders from the tent. The swordsmen weren’t an issue. It was the archers who worried Pirneon. Those crossbows were more than a match for even the most heavily armored. Having insisted on stealth over protection, Pirneon’s raiders would be woefully exposed. Their black tunics and pants wouldn’t even slow the bolts. The potential for slaughter was high but worth the risk as far as Pirneon was concerned. He grit his teeth and leaned back as the rest of his forces caught up.
Most were bloodstained, and all were panting heavily. Pirneon found their lack of skill and discipline disturbing. The Satrap should already be in chains. Instead, he was forced to delay because of the sloppy barbarism of his allies. That ignorance was going to cost them dearly. Pirneon had no qualms about sacrificing a few for the greater good. Intensified sounds of battle drifted to him. All elements of surprise were lost. They were going to have to scrape their way out of the camp whether they succeeded or not.
“Now! Rush the guards. Take down the crossbowmen first. I’ll grab the Satrap,” he ordered.
Pirneon saw the fear in their eyes and almost sensed a trap. For the briefest of moments, he felt his soldiers plotting against him. The moment passed, but doubts lingered. The motley group Caliph Adonmeia had given him wasn’t fit to muck out stables, much less win a war. He smiled cruelly.