The first thousand words of War for the Green Land open the story of a war between Viridiae, the “Green Land,” and Lucanus, an empire to the east. War for the Green Land is the second book in my fantasy trilogy, The Future History of the Grail. Book one is Fall of the Green Land. Book three is Return to the Green Land. I recommend reading all three in order, but you’ll enjoy each one individually. And you can buy them in a bundle. Please like this post and tell what you think in the comments! (Warning: Adult language)
Chapter 1: Prisoner of War
Sir Percival Rathkeale scraped morsels of oat gruel from the bottom of a bowl and fed them to a wounded man. Like miniature vultures, flies circled the putrefying wound on the man’s leg. The insects had found plenty of illness and death to feed upon in the weeks since Percival watched thousands of his fellow Viridians die at the River Colum.
The flap of the tent flew open, and a centurion in his crested helmet and red ochre fatigues barged in. “I’m looking for someone named Rathkeale.”
Percival stood up, his heavily muscled shoulders filling his blood-stained shirt. “That’s Sir Percival to you.”
Fire in his eyes, the centurion held himself back. The name tape said “Cantwell.” He held the rank of tribune. That meant he was on the general staff. “You’re wanted.”
“By whom and why?”
Tribune Cantwell spoke in a thick accent. “None of your fucking business. I’m to fetch you, that’s all.”
“Are you sending me home?” Percival doubted Cantwell understood sarcasm, even if it contained a hint of desperation. Some Viridian families had ransomed relatives. His mother might try to ransom him.
Cantwell grinned. “You’ve got the least chance of getting out of here alive, Rathkeale.”
“I’d like to finish feeding these warriors.” Percival gestured to the dozens of injured, some moaning, some motionless.
Cantwell slapped away the bowl in Percival’s hand. “You’re done. Are you coming or do you want to join them?”
Breaking Cantwell’s gaze, Percival told the Viridian soldier at his feet, “I’ll come back and change your dressing, if this nice man lets me.”
Cantwell grabbed Percival by the back of the neck and pushed him through the tent opening. Percival stumbled into the mud, but he checked his urge to fight back. For all he knew, the Lucian was taking him to the execution grounds.
Cantwell pointed Percival to the makeshift gate at the end of a lane between two areas of lean-tos, salvaged field tents, and milling prisoners in rags. Camp smoke drifted into the cloudy sky. Surveillance cameras on tall poles followed their movements. The captives watched Percival with a mixture of pity and fear. He recognized a few. They had left the hospital, thanks in part to Percival’s ministrations, and they nodded in respect.
Percival found it hard to return their gratitude, for he felt more like a coward than a nurse. After all, hadn’t he run from the battle like a frightened dog?
Cantwell waved at the guards, who opened the gate, letting the prisoner and his escort through. They walked toward the gallows, where crows tore at the faces of three Viridian bodies. An electric cart waited to take the corpses to the incineration pit. Percival’s mouth went dry. Was he next? He could not think of any transgression. No Lucian officer or guard had warned him of anything.
His racing mind flashed to the battle. Screams of dying men, women, and horses filled his ears. On the field, he met blow for blow from each opponent, once slicing open a man’s belly, spilling intestines like they were macabre sausages. Percival killed three Lucians, including an officer. Were the Lucians about to take their revenge?
He blinked in relief as Cantwell led him past the gallows to another tent. Four legionnaires guarded the pavilion, and Percival noticed the sigil of Dardarius, the Lucian’s commanding general, on their breast armor. The legionnaires belonged to Dardarius’ personal guard.
“You there, in the tent,” Cantwell bellowed. “I found your lackey.” The Lucian pushed Percival forward. He raised the flap.
Inside, the windowless walls danced with shadows. A single lamp illuminated the face of a man. Arturus, dressed in the sack cloth tunic worn by ordinary Lucian slaves, stood tall, but with a slight tremble. The king’s eyes glistened in the weak light.
Disbelieving his own eyes, Percival fell to one knee. “Majesty.”
Arturus stepped forward and placed his hands on Percival’s upper arms, urging the knight to rise. The monarch of Viridiae studied Percival as if he hadn’t seen him for a thousand years. He embraced Percival as he might a lost brother. “Sir Percival, I cannot tell you what a blessing from Gaia it is to see you again.”
“Likewise, Your Majesty, but—” Percival could not find the words to express his surprise and delight. With Arturus came hope. “We heard nothing. The Lucians would never answer our questions. There were rumors, but …” He couldn’t finish the sentence.
“I wouldn’t blame you if you thought I was dead.” Arturus collected himself. “For a while, I thought I was dead, despite Dardarius’ promises.”
Arturus gestured to a pair of chairs next to a table with bread, cheese, and wine. “I’m a hostage, surety for my country’s good behavior and a trade for Merlin.”
Merlin? Why Merlin? How could he be more important than the king? “Have they hurt you, sire?” Percival’s hands warmed with anger to think that Merlin was more important than the king. “The last time I saw you, you were in chains in front of Dardarius.”
“No. I’m more fortunate than others.” He glanced in the direction of the gallows.
“Majesty, what is happening? More prisoners die every day. Ten thousand surrendered. It’s been two weeks. There’s five or six thousand now. There’s no food and water and we’re living in our own shit. We can’t take much more. I’ve been working in the hospital. We have one doctor, and she’s overwhelmed.”
“I suspect Dardarius is consolidating his gains in Viridiae before taking us back to Lucana.”
Worry creased Arturus’ forehead, as if he was imagining the next days and weeks. “Dardarius wants to treat me according to my rank.” Arturus chuckled to hide embarrassment. “He has a certain practical honor when he isn’t killing people. I asked to have an aide attend me. I asked for you.”
Percival startled. Of all Viridiae’s soldiers, including men and women of far greater influence than he, Arturus had chosen him.