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Sebastian Darke: Prince of Fools - An extract

Sebastian Darke: Prince of Fools

Compiled by Jack Foley

NOW, kick back and enjoy a special extract from Sebastian Darke: Prince of Fools...

Sebastian broke off abruptly as a distant sound rose and fell on the air – a long, drawn-out howl that seemed to echo eerily in the night.

‘What was that?’ asked Max fearfully.

‘Oh, just a luper,’ said Sebastian, trying to sound casual. ‘They aren’t a problem unless they’re hunting in a pack.’

As if in answer to his statement, more howls sounded in response to the first. Sebastian counted at least six or seven different tones.

‘Probably miles away,’ he added, trying to keep the note of desperation out of his voice. He tried to smile encouragingly at Max, but he could see a familiar expression in the buffalope’s eyes. A look of apprehension.

‘I’ve heard stories about lupers,’ said Max uneasily. ‘A pack of those things can strip a fully grown buffalope down to the bones in just a few moments.’

‘You shouldn’t believe everything you hear,’ Sebastian chided him. ‘It would take half the night to do that.’

‘Oh, now I feel better,’ said Max.

‘And besides, you can tell by listening to them – they’re not hungry.’

‘Really?’

‘Really. A hungry luper makes a particular sound. Sort of like a—’

Sebastian stopped talking. He had just heard something different. A rustling sound. His stomach seemed to fill suddenly with cold water.

‘There’s something behind us!’ whispered Max. ‘In the bushes!’

‘I know!’ Sebastian mouthed back at him. He reached out a hand to the hilt of his sword and began to slide it gently out of its scabbard. Now he could distinguish another sound mingled with the rustling: the dull, metallic clanking of armour.

‘Oh, mercy!’ whimpered Max. ‘It’s Brigands! They’ll murder you and have me for dinner!’ He thought for a moment. ‘From what you’ve been saying, they might even have you for dinner!’

‘Quiet!’ hissed Sebastian. ‘I’m trying to—’

‘Who goes there?’ bellowed a deep voice from the midst of the thicket.

Sebastian gave up all thoughts of delicacy and slid the curved sword clear of its scabbard. He got to his feet and stood crouched, ready to meet any attacker that came at him from out of the undergrowth.

‘J-just a traveller,’ answered Sebastian, settling both hands around the leather grip and noting with a hint of dismay how the blade seemed to be quivering uncontrollably.

‘Two travellers,’ Max corrected him.

‘A traveller and his beast of burden,’ ventured Sebastian.

‘Oh, that’s nice! A little while ago I was a partner; suddenly I’m downgraded to a beast of burden.’

‘Will you shut up?’ snarled Sebastian. He returned his attention to the bushes, trying to remember the advice his father had given him all those years ago. But nothing seemed to come to him. ‘We mean no harm,’ he ventured. ‘We’re just passing through.’

‘Please don’t eat us!’ whimpered Max.

There was a long silence, during which Sebastian became aware of a rhythmic thudding sound in his ears. It was a few moments before he realized it was the sound of his own heart.

‘Would you be willing to share your campfire with a fellow traveller?’ boomed the deep voice.

‘Er . . . possibly,’ said Sebastian.

‘It’s some kind of trick,’ whispered Max. ‘He’ll get you off guard and then stick a knife in your ribs!’

‘Shush!’ Sebastian took a deep breath and tried to gather his courage. ‘Step forward and show yourself,’ he demanded.

Another silence. He licked his dry lips and waited, for what seemed an age. He was abruptly aware of how small and vulnerable he was, camped out here in the midst of this great, featureless plain. And how could he be sure that there was just one person out there? It could be a band of rogues, one of them trying to get him off guard, while his friends sneaked around behind him. He turned his head to take a quick peek behind him, then snapped his gaze back as the bushes parted.

Somebody stepped out into the open – but at first Sebastian saw nothing. Then he realized that he needed to lower his gaze considerably.

A man was walking towards him out of the bushes, a thickset fellow wearing a battered-looking breastplate over a chain-mail singlet. He also wore a crested iron helmet, with elaborate nose and cheek protectors that covered his face entirely. In one hand he held a vicious-looking straight sword, and slung across his left shoulder was what looked like the carcass of a javralat, the fleet-footed quadrupeds that inhabited this part of the country.

The newcomer was undoubtedly a fierce warrior and a force to be reckoned with. But unlike most warriors, he was no higher than Sebastian’s hip.

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