This is a preview of my story, “The Rooftop Game,” about a royal bodyguard who will go to any length to save the life of his charge, the infant Princess Analisa. It’s actually available in two places:
- Fantastic Defenders — An anthology of five long stories, including other great authors like Jeff Patterson, Donna Royston, Martin Wilsey and David Tatum. Published in May 2017.
- The Rooftop Game — Solo publication of the story, including supplemental material. Published in September 2018.
In the opening, achieving positional advantage is paramount.
— Karkomir, Grand Master, from Salasia
Lydio Malik lay on his back on the sloped roof of the Widow’s Tower, the tallest tower of Paksenaral, the ancestral fortress of the Burgundar line. He tried to relax, to take advantage of this brief respite in the fighting and rest his tired, aching muscles. He crossed his hands behind his neck and looked up at the sky. A few puffy white clouds glided gently across the vault of blue, guided inexorably by the autumn winds toward the Cragenrath Mountains, violet and robbed of detail in the distance. The sky seemed so peaceful, so at odds with everything going on below.
Lowering his gaze, Malik saw smoke billowing up from the numerous fires that were consuming Lantille, the wind bending the smoke towards the mountains like a dark and ragged banner. The city’s Gladis Market was a raging inferno; the blocks of wooden merchant stands, livestock holding facilities, and tenements were all burning. There were fires down by the river, as well. The docks, a few ships and a number of nearby warehouses were ablaze. Other ships had cast free, and were fleeing the fires and the fighting.
The most worrisome fires to Malik, though, were the ones on the far periphery of the small city that marked the headquarters, support buildings and barracks of Lantille’s militia. He didn’t think there’d be any help coming from that direction, at least not anytime soon.
In Malik’s estimation, the attack had been a meticulously planned “smash-and-kill” raid utilizing a limited number of Kashmal rebels, probably no more than a few hundred men, and carefully timed to take advantage of King Salzari’s excursion to the north. The enemy’s undetected infiltration into Lantille, and into the fortress, strongly implied insider help. Given the widespread mayhem, he concluded that the effort had almost certainly been supported by at least one combat mage.
If the Kashmal had possessed mages, they’d have used them in the failed rebellion of two years ago. So, the mage represented foreign aid to the rebels. Malik could almost sense unseen forces moving pieces on a chessboard and aligning them against King Salzari, and against Salasia.
He found his fingers toying with the makeshift rope that was his lifeline. The rope was made of strips cut from sheets and tied together. One end of the rope was tied around his waist and the other looped around the spire of the tower. He had a certain amount of play in the rope, so he could move around the circular roof with its rippled, orange tiles, even stand, without having to worry about tumbling nine stories to his death.
Come to think of it, falling was probably the least of his worries.
He could hear the sounds of fighting somewhere in the fortress below, the clashing of swords, a few shouts and screams, and every once in a while, an explosion. The rebels hadn’t taken the fortress yet, but it wouldn’t be long.
When the sounds of fighting were done, he suspected the Queen would be dead. They’d be coming for him next.
Malik sat up and drew his sword out of its sheath. There was a thin strip of cloth tied to the pommel; the other end was tied to his right wrist. He couldn’t afford to drop the sword and have it slide off the roof. There was undoubtedly more edgework in the offing.
Unless an enemy mage turned up and roasted him. Still, you could only plan for the things you could control. If a mage showed up, then the game was over, and that was it.
He eyed his blade critically. It was clearly showing some serious wear. There were numerous nicks in the blade and, although he’d wiped it off, there were still traces of blood around some of the nicks. Well, he didn’t think he was going to live long enough to worry about the blade rusting.
He tested the edge with his thumb. Dull.
It had been sharp earlier this morning.
Malik reached into a pocket, took out a file and began sharpening the blade.
Time was the only thing on Malik’s side. The enemy hadn’t brought enough forces to hold the fortress for any significant time, especially if they wanted to escape the storm that would be coming their way. Even now, any remaining militiamen were probably rallying. Calls were likely going out to nearby towns for armed help. The garrison at Evanscap wasn’t that far away either. If he had to guess, the King was going to hear about this mess by evening. And he had mages.
A soft gurgle came from above him. He raised his head and watched as Princess Analisa, all of seven months old and heir to the throne of Salasia, shifted sleepily in her basket. The royal basket, as he liked to think of it, was suspended above him on the roof, where the slope increased dramatically. Like him, the basket was attached to the spire by a makeshift rope. Additional cloth strips were tied around the princess’ basket to ensure that she didn’t fall out.
It was too bad escape hadn’t been an option. He’d just have to hold out as long as he could.
Lydio Malik, Royal Bodyguard for Princess Analisa, resumed sharpening his sword and waited for the enemy’s next move.