Chapter 4 Excerpt from The Siege of Anticus: A Zombie Fantasy Novel
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Dam surveyed the wreckage that his home had become. As he’d feared, his slide into the canyon had made it impossible for him to give warning to his fellow villagers in time, and devastation looked complete. The temple had burned, taking the nearby houses with it, and from the quantity of blackened corpses within the smoking ruin, it looked like most of the village had burned inside with it.
Fire had also burned several houses on the other side of the town as well. The inn was still standing, of course, given its distance from the rest of the town’s buildings, as well as many of the other homes. Nor had all the villagers burned in the temple fire. A score or more clustered around the perimeter of his one-time home, moaning and reaching for him as he stood on the building’s timbered roof. As far as he could tell, he and the hungry dead around him were the only moving creatures in the wreck of Daneswall.
He crouched down, checking the quiver at his hip. A half-dozen arrows only, all made in the wild over the last few days. They wouldn’t be nearly as accurate as the ones he had normally crafted, usually with his feet resting on the hearth of the small home he’d built himself, a gift to his bride. She’d be nearby, always, helping him with the task or just sitting next to him, mending clothes or smearing wax on his leather rain-cape. He thought of those moments now as he stood on the roof, looking out over the town that had been his home after marrying Brynne. He’d always been an outsider of sorts, mostly of his own volition: his father had raised him to be closed-mouthed and respectful, and his reserve made it difficult to break into the insular community. Still, they had accepted him, even respected him for his hunting prowess, and they had been his neighbors and friends.
He sorted through the quiver, looking for the best of an admittedly bad lot. He’d tried to get into the house for his fletching tools and half-started work, but the ponderously-moving undead had made it impractical. He would need to make do with what he had, until he could fashion better tools somewhere out in the wild.
He found the best arrow in the quiver. The shaft was straightest of them, the goose feathers most intact. He checked the chipped stone head, made sure that the sinew that bound it to the shaft was tight and secure. He tested the tip with his finger, to verify that it was sharp enough for the task. He wished that he had a score or more, enough to finish the entire job, but he’d always been taught to take what was there and not waste time pining for what was not.
Standing on the edge of his roof, he brought the arrow to the string, running the soft feathers of the fletching through his fingers. He fitted the small notch he’d cut into the shaft to the string, already beginning to breathe deeply and evenly. He closed his eyes, seeing Brynne’s face as she smiled shyly at him, wearing the simple but beautiful dress she’d crafted for their vowtaking. The ceremony had seemed interminable, but the shared glances with her dancing eyes had made his heart race and palms sweat, helping him to ignore the droning and seemingly ceaseless words of Brother Derle.
Dam closed his eyes, bringing up the bow in a strong fluid motion and a deep inhalation. He thought of her face that night, after the ceremonies and feasts and well-wishing and drinking were done, her flush cheeks and eager eyes, their first night together as a wedded pair, bonded through their love and vows. He remembered, after, her excited whispers about perhaps already being quickened with their first child, her excitement of the idea of the first of many children.
His eyes remained closed as he breathed, fletching tickling the stubble on his right cheek, muscles straining to hold the bowstring taut, the familiar soreness through the calluses thick on his fingers. She hadn’t become pregnant that night, or any of the nights thereafter, but Dam had soothed her worries, knowing that in time their house, the home he’d built with his two hands, would be filled the red-haired children of their union.
Breathing deep and calm, Dam opened his eyes, sighting along the slightly crooked arrow at his target, one of the moaning eager dead faces that yearned for him in a primal, mindless way. The stone tip was steady as he adjusted his aim, timing the target’s movements, not wanting to waste an arrow with overzealousness. Calmly, he exhaled, fingers snapping with a sudden fluid arm movement, bowstring twanging as it struck his scuffed leather bracer.
He thought of Brynne’s face lighting up whenever he had returned home, laden with game, tired and sore, and tender way she cared for him on those days, as if he were child, carefully washing him and soothing his aches. With a last look at the crowd below him, he turned and loped to the opposite side of the roof, now cleared of the dead. A short drop brought him to the ground, and he set off at a tracker’s jog, faster than the pursuing creatures could maintain but easy enough for him to keep up for hours.
The mass of moaning and clumsy dead moved towards him, men and women he’d known, one even clutching an infant that moaned and stretched its chubby arms towards Dam’s back. All but one, which remained behind, mercifully still and quiet in its final death, an arrow jutting from the center of her once pretty forehead, green eyes open and looking at the sky she used to laugh and point at, naming the clouds.