Valentine's Rising, page 1
Table of Contents
“I have no doubt that E. E. Knight is going to be a household name in the genre.”
—Silver Oak Book Reviews
Praise for the Vampire Earth novels
Tale of the Thunderbolt
“An entertaining romp rife with plausible characters; powerful, frightening villains; suspense; romance; and monsters. Everything good fantasy and science fiction should have.”
Choice of the Cat
“I dare you to try to stop reading this exciting tale.”
“Strong characterization, excellent pacing, [and] believable depth in world-building . . . an entertaining story.”
“An impressive follow-up sure to delight all fans of dark fantasy and hair-raising heroic adventure . . . unique and wonderfully entertaining.”
“A sequel that surpasses the original.”
Way of the Wolf
“A winner. If you’re going to read only one more postapocalyptic novel, make it this one.”
—Fred Saberhagen, author of the Berserker series
“Powerful. . . . Readers will want to finish the tale in one sitting because it is so enthralling.”
—Midwest Book Review
“If The Red Badge of Courage had been written by H. P. Love-craft.”
—Paul Witcover, author of Waking Beauty
“Knight’s book of dark wonders is a marvel—simultaneously hip and classy, pulpy and profound. Evocative of Richard Matheson as well as Howard Hawks, Knight’s terrifying future world is an epic canvas on which he paints a tale of human courage, heroism, and, yes, even love.”
—Jay Bonansinga, author of The Killer’s Game
“This is one of the best books I’ve read in years. If you like action books (or horror or military or suspense . . .) just buy it.”
—Scott Sigler, author of Earthcore
“E. E. Knight has managed to create a compelling new world out of the ruins of our existing one. It’s a major undertaking for a new author. . . . He does it with style and grace, and I would highly recommend checking out the book as soon as you can.”
“Valentine is a complex and interesting character, mixing innocence with a coldhearted willingness to kill. . . . Knight brought the setting to vivid life. . . . His world is well constructed and holds together in a believable fashion . . . compelling.”
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First published by Roc, an imprint of New American Library,
a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
First Printing, December 2005
Copyright © Eric Frisch, 2005 All rights reserved
eISBN : 978-1-101-46225-6
REGISTERED TRADEMARK—MARCA REGISTRADA
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To those in uniform, past and present. Thank you.
All along that singing river
A black mass of men was seen
And above their shining weapons
Hung their own beloved green
Death to every foe and traitor!
Whistle loud the marching tune
And Hurrah! me boys for freedom
’Tis the rising of the moon
The rising of the moon
The rising of the moon
And Hurrah! me boys for freedom
’Tis the rising of the moon
Well they fought for dear old Ireland
And full bitter was their fate
What a glorious pride and sorrow
Fills the name of ninety-eight
Yet thank God while hearts are beating fast
In manhood’s burning noon
We will follow in their footsteps
By the rising of the moon
—“The Rising of the Moon” by John Keegan Casey
The Ouachita Forest, Arkansas, December of the forty-eighth year of the Kurian Order: The pines stand, colorless spindles under a winter overcast. The low mountains of the Ouachitas huddle dark all around, just touching the cloud sea. Water beads linger on bough, trunk, leaf and stone as though freshly dropped; the earth beneath the fallen leaves smells like decay. Birds overturn dead leaves and poke about the roots in silence, walking the earth as if too dispirited to fly. Brown ferns lie flat along the streambanks, under patches of frostbitten moss flaking off the rocks like old scabs. Even the wind is listless, seeping rather than blowing through the pines.
Naked outcroppings of stone, etched with lightning strikes of quartz crystal, project every which way from the ground like the work of titans who tried to pull out the mountain by its roots. The strata of the Ouachita slopes are jumbled, pushed up and twisted from a seismic pileup millennia ago. Thanks to the blind runs, box canyons and meandering crest lines of these elderly mountains, the landscape doesn’t lend itself to habitation. These hills have been hide-outs of liberty-loving India
The boot tracks have a source, noisily crunching over the hilltop’s still-frozen ground. Six mud-stained figures walk with the oddly stiff motion of men on their last legs, strung out in front of and behind a lone horse pulling an A-frame drag supporting an unconscious man with blood-matted hair. Two dreadlocked men in blue-black uniforms share a blanket as they move, muttering to each other in the patois of the sunny island of Jamaica. Walking alongside the horse is the oldest of the group, a meaty-faced man of six-two, dark brown hair flecked with early gray and a boxer’s shovel jaw. His clothing, indeed his whole body, has the look of having just emerged from a threshing machine. An improvised poncho is fixed about his waist with a wide brown belt. Dried blood stains the parts that dirt hasn’t touched; bits of rag are knotted around wounds in his left leg and right arm. He moves the horse along with a switch, though the occasional lash does nothing more than send it lurching forward a quick pace and into the man leading it.
The lead shape, seemingly bigger than any two of the others put together, is of another species. So forbidding that one might think he was pried off a cathedral and placed among Arkansas pines as a prank, he moves along leaning toward his right side, one tentpole-length arm supporting his midriff. An even longer gun rides his shoulders, tied there by a bit of leather like an ox’s yoke. He has bandages wrapped about the waist, a tight corset of brown-stained cloth that accentuates the width of the meaty, golden-furred shoulders above. The creature’s eyes shift, widen, and even go a little wet as he spies a figure far away in the trees, jogging toward the file from ahead.
The young man the apish humanoid sees places his feet deliberately as he trots, for a trail in wet leaves on the hillside could be spotted by experienced eyes as easily as a line of signal flares. He favors his left leg, leading with the right up difficult patches of the hill. His shining black hair and bronze skin mark him as more than a spiritual relative of the Osage who once hunted these hills; he moves like them, flowing from spot to spot with the speed of a summer stream: sometimes fast, sometimes slow, sometimes deceptively still when he stops to examine the ground. He wears a simple black uniform, mud-splotched, set off by a strange bandolier of snakeskin with oversized loops, as if the sash had been designed to carry hand grenades, and carries a rugged submachine gun fed by a drum magazine.
His right cheek is scarred from the outer edge of his eye down. The wound, like a Prussian dueling scar, traces its pale way along the edge of his face, marring an otherwise handsome frame around brown eyes. The wary, intent gaze of a wild animal patiently reads the woods behind when he pauses to rest and lets the column come to a stop at its own pace. . . .
Have to turn again. The first zig left had been nine hours ago, to avoid a long string of soldiers walking at ten-foot intervals like beaters driving game. Then there’d been another left turn to avoid a watchtower looking over a length of old highway. Now he’d spotted teams of men and dogs combing the banks of an ice-choked stream.
They were boxed in, no doubt about it. Every step the survivors of his Texas column took now brought them closer to the area around Bern Woods, where they’d been ambushed two exhaustingly long days ago. Since then no one in his party of survivors had slept or eaten hot food, and there wasn’t much play left in their strings.
His head ached. Fatigue or dehydration. He took a drink from his canteen.
“What passes, my David?” Ahn-Kha said, sliding up to him using his legs and one long arm. The Golden One doesn’t look at David Valentine; he keeps his eyes on the forest-cutting road below.
“We’re cut off. A picket line. Maybe dropped off from trucks.”
The Jamaicans, ex-Thunderbolt marines named Striper and Ewenge, dropped to their knees, unconscious atop each other within seconds of the column’s halt. The man leading the horse spat a white bubble onto the forest floor. William Post, Valentine’s lieutenant since their service together on the old Kurian gunboat Thunderbolt, dropped his bloody switch and joined David and Ahn-Kha. The drooping horse blew a mouthful of foam out from either side of its bit.
“How’s Tayland?” Valentine asked.
Post glanced back at the wounded man on the dragging A-frame. “Unconscious. Strong pulse still. The horse’ll be dead before him.”
“We’ve got maybe twenty minutes, and then a picket line will be on top of us.”
“I heard dogs behind,” Ahn-Kha said. The Grog was the only one who didn’t look dejected. He rubbed a bullet tip on his bandolier with the large thumb particular to the Golden Ones’ hands.
“That’s it, then,” Post said. “We can’t get back to Texas.”
“Listen up,” Valentine said loudly, and his complement of six—as recently as two days ago he’d been leading hundreds—was brought to life by prods from Post, except for Tayland. “We’re boxed in. We’ve got three guns with ammunition still between us”—Valentine still carried his old PPD out of affectation; it was as impotent as one of the quartz-etched rocks jutting from the soil—“and I’ve not seen a hint of friendly forces.”
Jefferson, the Texas drover at the horse’s head, asked, “How many are coming after us?”
“More than enough.”
He let that sink in for a moment, then went on. “I’m going to have to ask you to trust me. The Quislings love nothing better than taking prisoners.”
“You want to surrender?” Post asked.
“Worse,” Valentine said. “I want all of you to surrender. We fight it out here and we’ll just be dead. Giving up, you have a chance.”
“They’ll feed us before they’ll kill us,” Striper said. “I’ll hold my hands high, if it means hot tuck and sleep.” His mate looked down, blinking at tears.
“I’ll follow. I expect they’ll take you back to Bern Woods; we’ve been heading that way for the last two hours, and we know that town is occupied. Perhaps something will turn up.”
“I could play that I’m your prisoner,” Ahn-Kha said. “They might keep an eye on me, but leave me free.”
“No, I’ll need you at the town.”
“You want to see if there’s any Quickwood left?” Ahn-Kha asked.
“I want the rest of our men. The wood will have to wait.”
“How about a vote, Captain?” Post asked.
All Valentine saw was the top of his hat as the man spoke. “Yes, sir. I give up.”
The Jamaican nodded. He took out a small eating knife and tossed it to the ground.
“Slave labor camp’s not my style,” Jefferson said.
“You’re free to try to make it on your own.”
“Okay then,” Jefferson said. He knelt and relaced his boots.
“Tayland’s still out,” Post said.
Valentine handed Jefferson his canteen. “That leaves you, Will.”
“Wonder if they’ll send me back to New Orleans to hang as a renegade?”
“If that happens, I’ll surrender and hang with you,” Valentine said.
Post shrugged. “Sure. Don’t do that though, sir. Just find my wife and tell her what happened on the Thunderbolt.”
The only other refugee from the column couldn’t speak. The horse just shifted a foreleg out and gulped air.
“That’s it then,” Valentine said. He walked around to the rear of the horse, and opened Tayland’s eye. The pupil reacted to the light of the overcast, but the former Texas wagon-man showed no sign of regaining consciousness. Valentine nodded to Post, who untied the saplings from the horse’s saddle. They lowered the litter to the ground, placing it gently on the winter leaves. Jefferson shook hands with everyone, accepted Post’s pistol, received a few words of encouragement and some jerkey in wax paper from Striper
“I couldn’t run if the devil himself poked me,” Ewenge said, watching him go. Jefferson waved as he disappeared from sight. The Jamacian marine mechanically removed the horse’s saddle and wiped the sweat from its back.
“They’ll be here soon. Walk around a lot and mess up the tracks,” Valentine told Post. “If they ask about me, tell them I took off hours ago.”
“What about me?” Ahn-Kha asked.
“You left now. Scared Grog running for tall timber.”
“You’ll leave tracks just like Jefferson, Captain,” Striper said. “Maybe they follow you too.”
Valentine nodded to Ahn-Kha, who was, as usual, ahead of his human ally’s thoughts in throwing a blanket over his shoulders. Ahn-Kha bent over and Valentine climbed onto his back. He clung there like a baby monkey.
“One set of tracks,” Post said. “Good luck, sir. Don’t worry about us. Remember to find Gail. Gail Foster, her maiden name was. Tell her . . .”
“You were wrong,” Valentine offered.
Post bit his lip. “Just ‘I’m sorry.’ ”
Valentine thought of telling Post that he could tell her himself, but with hope vanished from the Ozarks like the winter sun, he couldn’t bring himself to offer an empty lie to a friend.
Ahn-Kha ran, legs pounding like twin piledrivers in countersynch, clutching his long Grog rifle in one hand and Valentine’s empty gun in the other. The trees went by in a blur.
Other author's books:
- Dragon AvengerValentine's ResolveTale of The ThunderboltValentine's ExileBaltic Gambit: A Novel of the Vampire EarthDragon RuleLara Croft: Tomb Raider: The Lost CultDragon Outcast
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