By Joseph Malik
“I didn’t come here to sell my soul. I came here to buy it back.”
Once dubbed “The Deadliest Man Alive,” Jarrod Torrealday is a former Olympic saber hopeful and medieval weapons expert banned from competition for killing another fencer in a duel. He now scrapes by as a stuntman and technical consultant for low-budget fantasy films.
A young sorcerer from another world offers Jarrod the gig of a lifetime: adviser to the war council of a magical realm teetering on the edge of collapse, with a foreign army massing just beyond its borders.
Swept into a treacherous and deadly world of intrigue and conspiracy, Jarrod soon learns that the enemy mastermind is also from Earth, and has laid the foundations for a new kind of war.
Dragon’s Trail is an epic fantasy thriller currently available through Kindle Unlimited and available for review and comment on Goodreads.
Joseph Malik writes and lectures on advanced intelligence theory and asymmetric warfare for the Defense Intelligence Agency. He has worked as a stuntman, a highrise window washer, a freelance writer, a computational linguist, a touring rock musician, and a soldier in the United States Special Operations Command. His hobbies include boxing, fencing, Historic European Martial Arts (HEMA), traditional archery, and linguistics.
A veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom, he lives in the Pacific Northwest along with his wife and their two dogs, and currently serves in the Army Reserve.
Dragon’s Trail is his first novel, slated for release on September 30th, 2016. A sequel, The New Magic, is scheduled for summer 2017.
On Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jmalikauthor/
On Twitter: https://twitter.com/jmalikauthor
On Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01JF0KWZ8
On Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/30729988-dragon-s-trail
This is the scene from the first chapter where we meet the protagonist, Jarrod Torrealday. This scene takes place in an illegal underground dueling “fight club” during a RenFaire.
“Well, then,” Jarrod answered, “May God guide the true blade, sir. To the first blood?” Out went the right hand for balance, the right leg a bit behind, weight shifting to and fro.
Harold nodded, his mouth a tight line behind the beard. “So be it. First blood.”
“Get him, Jarrod!” yelled one man from the sidelines.
“Kick his ass, Jarrod!” added another.
They crossed blades. Neither moved for the longest moment.
Jarrod exploded forward in a whirl of flashing steel, and Harold crumpled and spilled into a knee-deep puddle, pleading his surrender as Jarrod stomped and beat him.
The blood-thirstier onlookers were disappointed. Though Harold’s nose was smashed, his eye swollen and his beard dripping blood, the duel had lasted only seconds.
Jarrod disarmed him with a kick, his face quivering in fury.
Harold sloshed to his knees to find Jarrod’s rapier pricking him not-so-lightly in the eyebrow.
“Give me your hand,” said Jarrod.
“Your hand!” he screamed, his face reddening.
“Careful, Jarrod!” someone shouted.
Jarrod tossed his rapier well aside, took Harold’s hand in both his, and twisted it. He pried Harold’s ring finger back until it nearly disjointed.
“Tell me to stop,” Jarrod growled. He bent it back further, and Harold yelped again. “Tell me to stop!”
“Ah, st—! Hey!”
Jarrod’s lip curled over his teeth. “Beg me to stop.”
Harold was breathing in panicked gasps, “Stop!”
He snapped the finger back. Harold shrieked. Stomachs wrenched. The Lady Siriana, whom Jarrod had been championing, covered her ears and spun away.
“Now, the next time someone tells you to stop,” Jarrod snarled, “you just remember how that felt, you bastard. And you—,” he panted, “Will. Stop!” and he broke another one.
He shoved Harold back into the water with a foot on his chest and waded ashore.
He toe-flipped his rapier up into his hand, snatched his shirt from an onlooker, and left at a trot that in five steps turned into a sprint.
Siriana attempted to run after him, but one of Jarrod’s supporters took her arm and held her back.
“Don’t,” was all he said.
“No, I gotta—” she attempted to push past him, but to no avail. “Lemme go!”
He put his hand on her shoulder. “Please, don’t,” he emphasized. “He doesn’t want to see anybody right now.”
* * * *
Late into the night, Jarrod Torrealday lay awake in bed, unjumbling his thoughts.
Cars slashed by, the headlights making nightmares of the room’s shadows. He turned on his side and listened to his pulse like so many marching feet.
His rapier hung from the doorknob. Headlights roamed over it again and again.
He wished he smoked.
The lights brought flashes: Harold’s acceptance of the duel, Siri begging Jarrod not to hurt him, the conflict and the hatred in her face. The absurdity of crossing swords for a woman he’d met exactly once.
Watching Harold warming up, the sloppy footwork and heavy lunges, the beer bottle he’d cast aside. The relief and the frustration of knowing deep inside there was no true danger. Sizing Harold up as drunk, and fat, and clumsy.
And being right.
He’d taken Harold apart in five seconds.
Harold and that ridiculous mammoth blade. Way too much sword for you. Compensating for a deficiency in your . . . character?
Touching blades; thoughts of Harold, and others, of Siri drunk and held down on a feasting table like part of the goddamn buffet.
And you still can’t do anything right.
He picked up his phone, but his hand trembled too hard to read it, much less use it.
The morning’s breath in his throat, dry and ugly; a grip in his gut as a solid year of hell—still so fresh he could smell it if he lay still enough—stampeded across the darkness. A delusional ex-champion with a rapier. Endless months of crying coaches and shouting lawyers. A kaleidoscope of TV cameras and microphones, a magnificent life vanished like sand through his fingers, and a girl, achingly beautiful, who might as well be a ghost now. All of it an utter screw-up.
And now this.
Crawling out, one Harold at a time.
He took a pull from the bottle of Lagavulin beside the clock, acidic and hot.
His own voice startled him. “What were you gonna do?” he asked the shadows. “Kill him, too?”
He flipped through pictures, finding a block-script quote by Rostand in Cyrano de Bergerac: “I feel too strong to war with mere mortals—bring me giants!”
He took another drink, longer.
It was time to move on.
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