Thank you so much for the opportunity to present this query and the first 1,250 words of my completed fantasy manuscript THE FORGE OF HEROES. I was very excited to hear that DeFiore & Company were open to new author submissions and look forward to hearing your thoughts.
In FORGE OF HEROES, Upinde always thought he would train and serve as an Askari warrior to protect the Sa’mor kingdom, from any aggression. But when he’s ordered to flee from unknown invaders and seek aid from traditional enemies, everything he’s believed will be called into question. He travels across the border with two companions to a land where they could all be killed out of hand. Even if they find shelter, treachery will still strike at them and events will conspire against them. Without courage, conviction and quick wits, Upinde and his friends will die, leaving Sa’mor to burn under the invaders destructive slaughter.
With so many lives on the line, Upinde has no choice. Taking up the challenge will cost him dearly as he puts his life, his duty and his very honor on the line. Will he turn into the thing he hates to save the land he loves?
Similar in scope and scale to Bernard Cornwell’s Warlord and Saxon stories, FORGE OF HEROES is written within a realistic world with fantastic elements over a series of installments.
Following, please find the first 1,250 words of the 106,000 word manuscript. I am looking forward to hearing your thoughts on its potential for publication.
THE FORGE OF HEROES
Upinde strained his eyes but couldn’t see any bodies. Across the valley, perhaps a mile from where they hid, dark smoke streamed through the open main gates of the Askari Caverns. The gray and black tendrils were the only obvious sign something was wrong. The lack of guards or people in and out of the gates wasn’t unusual, but the smoke was as good as a horn’s warning.
For a fire in the Caverns to create so much smoke unchecked, hundreds would have to be dead.
“It’s burning? Our home?” Pinna Mar asked. “Was it an attack? Why didn’t Mani Haldor know about this?”
Upinde shot him a withering look. They were hidden in a copse of bushwillow trees and thorned scrub across the valley from the entrance and the nearest likely threat, but that didn’t make them safe. Even though Pinna was only an aspirant, he should know better than to start talking until they were certain they couldn’t be seen or heard. Under Upinde’s harsh gaze, he closed his mouth. After a moment more Pinna lowered his eyes. Upinde motioned his five companions back down the hill and into cover. The six sa’mori slid back from the grassy crestline, staying belly to the ground, to not give away their position.
Upinde ignored the others for the moment. He moved to check the leads and hobbles on the two pack wildebai they’d stashed in the small copse. The animals chewed the tall, yellow grasses and snorted, but otherwise made no fuss. They’d left another ten of the pack animals, the goal of their journey, penned at an unmanned farm near the entrance to the valley where they had first seen the smoke. The farm doubled as an outpost that shouldn’t have been abandoned--another sign things were not as they should be.
Upinde pulled the leather thongs on one of the tightly bound packages, and dropped it to the ground with a rattle of wood and metal.
“Where were the patrols?” Pinna whined as the other sa’mori gathered in a loose circle together. “Where was the defense? Why weren’t the gates shut? Where are the Askari?” His voice rose in a panicked, whispered stream. His eyes cast desperately about to each of his five sa’mori brethren in turn.
Upinde bit down an angry retort. He patted wildebai's rough main of black hair, careful of its short horns.
Pinna asked the right questions, but at the wrong time. The young sa’mori caught Upinde’s gaze and peered down at him, searching for an answer. His broad shoulders twitched nervously under thick, corded muscle. For all his size and strength, Pinna was the youngest aspirant warrior in the group. It would be a year or more until he trained and matured into a proper adept like Upinde. It would be several more years before Pinna could even be considered for an Askari warrior. Under other circumstances, Upinde would have sympathized. He could sense the same pangs of chaos and fear at the edge of his mind that Pinna was now giving voice.
Pinna wasn’t wrong, but this wasn’t the place to ask what couldn’t be answered.
“Be still,” Felis Kit told Pinna, cutting through Upinde’s thoughts. “We can only deal in the now. Upinde has the command. He’s an adept.”
Upinde turned around slowly from the two packages on the ground. He was trained, but not experienced--not for this. To buy time, he looked at each of his five companions, reading the emotions on their faces. Upinde finished by looking at his second, Ramuh Pam. Her cold, calculating gaze caught his and stopped him. She was also an adept, older than Upinde and with more experience. She’d actually stood a watch with an Askari patrol. She could easily take the command.
For a silent moment Upinde wished she would.
Instead, Ramuh nodded at him to continue. Upinde felt his heart sink and his mind steel. It was his job. He had been tasked to succeed or fail. If he fell, she would take over, and not before.
This is only supposed to be a supply run, Upinde thought. A little small group command training. We’re not supposed to fight.
He drew a deep breath and held it for a moment.
For any obstacle, start at the beginning, Upinde told himself. The words echoed in the voice of Calin Eer, one of the Caverns’ Askari masters.
Upinde took a deep breath and blew it out slowly.
“I’ll give you my thoughts,” he said. “Then we’ll make a decision--together.”
Pinna stared at him, waiting for more. The young man wanted something that would make logic from this chaos. The other four sa’mori nodded their heads in agreement, as if Upinde had given them an order. Ramuh watched him from where she leaned against a bushwillow tree.
“We assume the worst,” Upinde told them. “One of the border nations has invaded and attacked the Askari Caverns--our home. Either the Ruska or the Vik. It doesn’t matter which. A large force would be needed to overcome the...the defenders, and they’ve done that.”
Friends, teachers and brethren, you mean, Upinde translated in his head. Don’t think of them now. There’s nothing you can do for the dead.
He swallowed and went on.
“Those who survived the attack are now prisoners, here or on their way to be sold as slaves.”
“What good does that do us?” Pinna interrupted. “We’re not Askari! We should run...retreat.” He looked to the others for support. “We should find an Askari patrol and report this--let them handle it.”
Pinna’s eyes were wide, the whites showed all around his deep brown in near panic.
He’s not a coward, Upinde reminded himself. He’s young and he’s scared. Stick to the problem. That’s where we’ll find the solution.
“A rearguard may have been left to hold the Caverns,” Upinde told them.
“Two adepts and four aspirants against an army?” Pinna asked.
“Not an army,” Felis corrected.
“Upinde just said--” Pinna began.
“A large force would have patrols,” Upinde cut him off to explain, “and a guard outside the Caverns’ entrance. We’ve watched for an hour and there are neither.”
“So, there’s no one?” Pinna asked. A note of hope crept into his voice. “They’ve come and gone?”
“As Upinde said,” Argona Vis spoke up for the first time. He rolled his own shoulders to loosen them and emphasize his point. “We assume the worst.”
“What’s that?” Pinna asked.
“This is the first stage of a war of conquest,” Upinde said. “If they hold the Caverns, they mean to use them for an attack on Mani Haldor.”
Upinde stared at Pinna Mar and let the implication sink through his panic. If they took Mani Haldor, the entire kingdom would fall.
Pinna Mar slowed his breathing. He blinked his eyes as if he was waking up from a dream. His big shoulders lifted and sagged in a silent sigh. The panic that had been on Pinna’s face melted away into resignation.
Upinde was satisfied. Pinna had remembered who he was and remembered his duty. Even aspirants were expected to take up spear and shield if the call came.
“We’re the only ones who know this attack has happened,” Upinde told them. “We’ll need more than kukri knives.”