Hello everyone and welcome to my stop on the Escapist Book Tours virtual book tour for Jordan Loyal Short’s Sci-Fi/Fantasy novel The Skald’s Black Verse! Today, I am excited to help kickoff the tour by sharing an excerpt straight from the pages of the book!
You can find the excerpt below, along with all of the info about the book, the author, links to purchase a copy of The Skald’s Black Verse for yourself, and a chance to win a copy in our giveaway! Also, be sure to take a look at the schedule here or at the bottom of the post and follow along to see the stops from our other awesome hosts!
The Skald’s Black Verse by Jordan Loyal Short
Series: Dreadbound Ode #1
Intended Age Group: Adult
Publisher: Self Published
The world is ending, and if the Norn don’t rise up… they’re dead.
The unwanted son of a conquering soldier, Brohr will soon discover that he is cursed, haunted, a berserker. When a strange murder sparks unrest in his tiny village, Brohr becomes the prime suspect.
Hunted by invaders from another world, only the forbidden blood magic of the Skalds can save him. To survive, Brohr must unravel dire omens, uncover family secrets, and lead a desperate revolt against an empire that spans the heavens.
But dark forces gather in the shadows, intent upon a rebellion of their own.
Universal Link: mybook.to/Skalds
Brohr had never been inside Mads’s Tavern without his grandfather. It was cheerier than he remembered, but of course today was a holiday. White candles—purchased for the occasion—flickered from every table, along the bar, and from wall sconces. Around the candles lay fresh-cut pine boughs tied with white ribbons. Atop the boughs rested wicker poppets, their hands bound in white string. A crackling fire added the waft of wood smoke to the stink of sweat and sour ale.
At just past noon, the place was already packed with bachelors and a few women who’d joined the festivities. In the back of the tavern, a small crowd watched a game of Six Pins.
Brohr pushed his way up to the bar, admiring the tavern keeper’s daughter while he waited to order. She had dark ginger hair, bright green eyes, and a little swagger that made him smile. She was a strange one, no doubt, going around in breeches, but he had to credit her—she did as she pleased.
The girl handed a flagon to the man beside him and asked Brohr, “What’ll it be? If you’re hungry, we’ve got cakes and berries or morel and mincemeat stew.”
“An ale,” he said.
“Dark or light?”
“Which is your favorite?” he asked.
She smiled. “Well, I brewed them both myself. But the dark is my favorite. It’s got more hops than a bunny.” She winked.
“Dark then. Those berry cakes sound pretty good. I’d better have two helpings.” Brohr held up two fingers.
He traded her a silver federal, and she gave back a copper from her apron. Brohr tucked it in his pouch, noticing her cheer evaporate. Puzzled, he gulped some brew from the dented tin mug. It had a crisp bite and a funny aftertaste, sort of like skunk cabbage. He stood at the bar and wolfed down the sweet cakes, dotted with overripe berries, trying not to stare while she waited on the next patron.
The only empty table in the place faced across from where the veteran, Torin, sat. The ex-legionary glanced up, his hair greasy and black, his skin a little darker than Brohr’s own. The drunk scowled and looked away. Brohr could see why the seat was vacant. Even though they were the only shades in town, Torin had never shown any sort of camaraderie.
The first generation after the conquest had drowned the sons of the federal invaders, until they made it a hanging crime like carrying a long bow or a double-bladed axe. Most folk still did it, but it was a secret now. He wondered what had moved Torin’s mother to spare him. According to Tyrianite law, Torin was a caste above the rest of them like the mayor’s family. Like Brohr could be if he took the rite of submission. Of course, he’d never gotten so much as a kindly look from the veteran or the mayor’s family, so what was the point? Brohr couldn’t imagine why Torin had moved to Skolja after his service here. It must be better for shades in Pederskald. At least, Brohr hoped it was, but maybe they didn’t like him there either.
Instead of taking the open table, Brohr joined the men playing Six Pins in the back.
“Can I take the winner?” he asked.
A skinny man with pox scars under his beard spat on Brohr’s boot. “Piss off, shade.”
The scarred man stepped up to the scuffed line painted on the floor boards. He held his dagger by the blade and took aim at a piece of firewood standing on end across the room. A hush fell over the crowd, and he hurled his dagger, lodging it into the log and knocking it over. A fat man in a stained brown tunic on the far side of the room cursed and stomped back over to the group.
The pockmarked winner sneered at Brohr. “All right, piglet.” He lowered his voice. “You can play. But it’s five silver a game.”
The man behind Brohr gasped at the hefty wager. “Johan, is that wise?”
“You can piss off too, Sven.” He smiled, unveiling a row of snaggle teeth. “Five silvers. You in or out, piglet?”
“Fine,” Brohr said.
Johan thumped the hilt of his dagger on the nearest table. “Drinks on me, boys.” He waggled his blade at Brohr. “Set them up, shade.”
Brohr felt his haunt squirm. The hair on his forearms stood up, his stomach muscles clenched. He shared a longing to send this loud mouth’s teeth skittering across the floor, an eerie feeling not entirely his own. Brohr breathed, practicing calm, and strutted across the room to select his pins.
The game was a simple one: each player selected six logs from the pile of firewood and set them on end, a row of three, a row of two, and one up front, forming a triangle. Players took turns tossing their knives at their opponent’s pins. Knock one over, it’s a point. If your blade sticks, it’s two. High score after six throws wins.
The second he took his hand off of the last piece of wood, Johan stuck his knife in the log from across the room. Brohr leapt back, startled.
“Two points!” Johan called, eliciting cheers from his friends.
Brohr glared at him and stepped to the line. “You’re pretty good.”
Johan laughed, relishing the moment. “It’s too late to back out now.”
Brohr nodded. “I was thinking the opposite,” he said. “What if we added a little spice to the pot? Something more important than a few coins.” Though, of course, five silver was all he had. “I’ll stake my dagger against yours.”
The men fell silent.
Their knives were generations old, usually heirlooms, a mark of their manhood. To lose one was beyond shameful, to wager one unheard of. Johan had nothing to say.
One of his friends gave him a shove. “Come on, Johan. You haven’t lost all day.”
“If you’re afraid,” Brohr said. “We can pretend I never asked.”
“I’m not afraid!” Johan snatched his flagon of ale off the table, guzzled the last of it, and wiped the froth from his beard on his sleeve. He slammed the mug down and belched. “Daggers and silver! I’m going to melt that thing into slag when I—”
Brohr’s dagger sunk deep into the back-right log, sending it careening into the wall. “Two to two,” he called, grinning.
Strangers sensed the tension and began to crowd around—some jeering him, others, acquainted with Johan, needling the man with unsolicited advice and playful gibes. The players retrieved their knives and stepped back to the lines.
Johan threw again, knocking over a pin but failing to stick his blade.
“One point,” Brohr added helpfully as he buried his own knife. “4 to 3.”
Johan’s next round was better, but Brohr scored two again. He noticed coins changing hands as spectators wagered on the outcome. The following round they both lodged their blades. “Eight to seven. That second round may come back to haunt you,” said Brohr. “Lucky for me, I practice every day in the barn. Not much else to do on the farm.” He smiled. “This is fun. What should we wager next game?”
Johan rushed him, but Sven grabbed him by the arm. “Look at the size of him,” he warned his friend. “Don’t be stupid.”
“There are six of us, you chicken shit.” Johan looked at his friends.
“Oh no.” Sven held up his hands. “This is your mess. Just finish the game.”
Johan tore his arm free and stepped to the line. His hand trembled. “Look,” he pleaded. “I’m sorry about earlier. Too much ale I think. Let’s—”
“Take your shot,” Brohr interrupted.
Johan gritted his teeth and hurled his dagger. It sailed wide of the pins. Brohr scooted out of the way just in time to avoid it hitting his shin.
The crowd erupted in whispers and laughter.
“If you do that again,” said Brohr. “I’m going to shove that dagger down your throat.” Then he thumped his own knife into another log. “Ten to seven.”
If everything went wrong, they could still tie if Johan stuck his blade and managed to somehow knock over the other pin. It was a tough throw, though. Vili had pulled off a throw like that once. He’d been so excited that he had leapt on Brohr’s shoulders. Despite everything, Brohr chuckled to himself.
Everyone quieted as Johan concentrated on the remaining pins. He practiced the motion, releasing the blade on the third go. It flew through the air, sticking in the edge of the front pin, spinning it in a wobbly circle until the knife handle swatted the other log, and they both crashed to the ground. Johan clapped his hands and cheered, as did many of the onlookers, but Brohr waved his dagger in the air, and they sobered.
He held it by the blade, looked over at Johan, spat on the floor, and flipped the knife in the air. Snatching it by the handle as it came down, he threw with a fluid motion. The pommel struck the log with a loud knock. It toppled over, and the crowd went wild.
“Eleven to ten,” Brohr called. “Close one.”
Some of the crowd booed, others, delighting in Johan’s defeat, applauded. A man Brohr didn’t know clapped him on the back. Brohr picked up Johan’s dagger and crossed to his adversary. Johan shoved his friend aside, picked up Brohr’s blade, and scurried over to meet him.
“Here,” he said. Fishing in his coin purse he held out a handful of silver. “A bet’s a bet. I get it. And I was an ass. I know. I’ll do whatever you want. But that knife has been through four generations. It was made before the pigs came. No offense!” he corrected himself. “The Tyrianites.”
“You really think I’m one of them?” Brohr asked.
Johan looked flabbergasted. “Well, you’re not one of us.”
Brohr came very close to hitting him. It was only the thought of coming to, bewildered, that stayed his hand.
“Right now, I’m closer to stabbing you with this knife than giving it back.” Brohr folded his arms. “If you want it, you’ll have to do better than that.”
“I’m really sorry.” Johan clasped his hands together. “If you keep it…” He opened his mouth but couldn’t think of what else to say.
“I’ll tell you what,” said Brohr. “If you just get the hell out of here, I’ll let you have it back.”
Johan’s mouth closed, and he nodded.
Brohr dropped the dagger in front of him. Johan bent over and scooped it up.
“Piggy.” Johan spat on the floor.
Brohr feinted toward Johan, taking a quick step at him and cocking his fist. The pox-scarred bully flinched and tripped over his own feet, trying to get away. Mads’s Tavern burst out laughing. Even Johan’s supposed friends had a good chuckle. Humiliated, Johan picked himself up and shoved his way through the crowd, looking back over his shoulder with murder in his eyes. Some of the folk looked disappointed, some kept laughing. The barmaid, Lyssa, brought him a horn of mead.
“Here,” she said. “This one’s on the house.”
“Thanks,” he said, smiling.
“Don’t go getting a big head. Everyone hates Johan. That’s nothing special.”
Brohr thanked her again and played another round with the next challenger. He won again and again, had a few more horns of mead, and was having a grand time—until the crowd gathered around the match parted just enough for him to glimpse Vili and Birgit seated across the bar. She laughed at something Vili said, and he leaned closer, tucking a lock of her hair behind her ear.
Brohr heard the distant sound of glass breaking and found himself looming over their table. Someone cursed behind him. The corners of his vision darkened and the hair on his neck stood up. He gripped their table, gnashing his teeth as he struggled not to be dragged down into a rage. The lovers stared up at him with eyes that saw the murder in his heart.
“Brohr.” It was Birgit’s plea.
He looked down at her, anger threatening to swamp his reason, that familiar presence roiling with contempt, yearning to lash out. Vili started to speak.
“Quiet,” said Brohr. “If you say a word…”
“Brohr.” Birgit stood up, her chair tipping to the floor. “Brohr.” She tugged on his sleeve. “I got the fawn you carved me. It’s beautiful, but it doesn’t change anything.”
“Why?” he asked. “What about our life?”
“Look at yourself,” she said. “I’m sorry, Brohr Nilstrom, but you’re scary. I never saw that until…” She looked over at Vili. “How can I run away with you after that? What would become of me?”
She was right. But it didn’t salve the wound. Brohr recited the names of the Fathers in his head and exhaled. Repeated them and inhaled. “And suddenly,” he said. “The two of you are sweethearts?” Brohr flicked his eyes at Vili, whose bruises hadn’t quite healed yet.
“I’m sorry,” Birgit said. “I didn’t mean to hurt you. It wasn’t until after…”
The tavern girl strutted up. “Is there a problem here?” She looked at each of them in turn, landing on Brohr.
“No,” said Birgit, pulling Vili to his feet. “We were just leaving.”
“Off you go then,” said Lyssa, folding her arms.
Vili never even met his eyes on the way out, but Birgit flashed him an apologetic look that tore at his stricken heart.
“You need some stew,” Lyssa said.
Brohr watched them go, his anger fading into sadness. “Mead.”
Lyssa thumbed her chest. “This is my bar. I can see an angry drunk coming a mile away. I won’t have you spoiling the night with a brawl.” She switched to a friendlier tone. “I’ll bring you a bowl of stew and an ale. How does that sound?”
“Good,” she said. “You’d better tip this time too, or it’s out on your ass.”
Brohr sat at the table Birgit and Vili had fled. Lyssa hadn’t taken away their half-empty flagons, so Brohr gulped down the abandoned drinks and brooded until Lyssa returned.
A bowl of steaming red stew plopped in front of him. It smelled of rosemary and pepper. Lyssa set a mug of beer beside it. Noticing the empty flagons, she narrowed her eyes at Brohr. He stared back, shoveling a spoonful of stew into his mouth.
She held out her hand.
A little good humor returning, he pressed a federal into her palm. “Keep the change.”
She nodded, snatched the empty mugs off the table, and hustled off toward the bar.
About the Author
Jordan Loyal Short is an author of epic fantasy. His first novel, The Skald’s Black Verse, is a dark and beautiful story about families, cultures, and beliefs at war with themselves. The protagonist, Brohr, must navigate the tangled loyalties and unforgiving biases of a planet conquered by invaders from another world. Using black magic, and the bizarre bond he shares with his stillborn brother’s spirit, Brohr unravels the truth about himself and an eon spanning war that has reached its end game.
You can see Jordan’s latest book reviews at Booknesteu.com.
Jordan has worked in a variety of industries, as a web developer, bartender, copywriter and more. He lives in Washington state with his wife where he is currently daydreaming about the end of the world.
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