Excerpt from Abuse of Power

Myths Inscribed, the new ezine from the creators of Mythic Scribes, accepted my novelette, Abuse of Power, for publication.  Follow the link above for the first half of the story (to be concluded in the next edition).  To whet your appetite, I’ve posted an excerpt below.

Abuse of Power by Brian W. Foster

Auggie crept through the moonlit forest.

He chose a specific spot for each step.  Despite his bulk, the resulting crunch of leaves and sticks blended into sounds of gurgling water and a gentle breeze stirring the canopy of treetops.  The cool night air and the excitement of the chase made him feel alive.

How dare she ask me to give up this.  The thought made him want to tear a limb from a nearby tree and crush it into splinters.  If she knew how I felt, maybe she wouldn’t have asked, and we’d still be together.  A quiet voice in the back of his mind reminded him of how many times he had told her just that.  Fighting not to scream in frustration, he picked a patch of ground covered in moss and stepped on it.

Behind him, Benj employed far less care.

Auggie glanced back.  Though he kept his voice low, he mustered sharp emphasis.  “Are you familiar with the concept of sneaking?”

His friend replied in a conversational tone.  “You said it’s another half mile to the camp.  No need to stress yet.”

“One of these days, your carelessness is going to get me killed.”

Benj rolled his eyes.  “We’ve done this a thousand times.  Simple horse thieves aren’t a worry for you and your faithful companion.”  He gestured at the dense woods.  “How are you going to find the clearing in the middle of all this anyway?”

“You didn’t recognize the description the scouts gave us?  The huge oak in the middle?  A couple hundred yards from a cliff?”

Benj started to shake his head.  “Wait.  That bandit who robbed Lord Hebert’s country manor a year ago.  The one who gave us the slip.”

“Took you long enough,” Auggie said.  “We’ll follow the stream right to it.  Now shut up.”

Behind him, Benj’s movements blended as much into the surroundings as Auggie’s, and they soon reached the edge of a clearing.

A dim orange glow illuminated the middle of the camp, and a man sat facing the embers.  Two dozen horses, some moving about and others sleeping, stood in a picket line on the other side of the fire.  Snores emanated from eight bedroll-covered shapes scattered about the site.

Catching his friend’s eye, Auggie raised a single finger before pointing it from Benj to the ground.  After gesturing at himself, he made a circular motion.  Benj nodded.

Dark hues and roughened buttons replaced the royal blue and shiny gold trim of his uniform.  His blond hair hid under a black cap, and a layer of mud covered the white of his face.  To keep his broadsword from moving, straps fastened the sheath to his thigh.

Auggie kept his profile low and slid from shadow to shadow outside the ring of trees before encountering a twenty-yard stretch of unshielded turf.  He eased onto his stomach and wormed his way into the moonlight.

As Auggie concentrated on the movements of the sentry, his hand found a stick.  He pressed without thinking, and the dry branch crunched.  The sound seemed to reverberate through the night.

Auggie froze and imagined sinking into the ground.  Be the grass.  His offending hand inched toward the hilt of his sword.  A prone position is an ill-advised method for meeting the enemy.

He stared at the sentry and readied his fingers and toes to launch onto his feet.  Invigorated by hanging on the edge of danger, he couldn’t imagine giving up the life of a soldier to sit in an audience chamber listening to advisers.

Holding his muscles tense and not breathing, Auggie watched.  The sentry didn’t budge except to take another swig from a wineskin.  Auggie sighed and crawled into the darkness.

As he approached the horses, he kept his pace steady and his manner unthreatening.  Checking the left hindquarter of the first one, he found an unfamiliar brand, so he moved to the next.   He nodded at the markings on the fourth horse and ghosted back into the night.

He and Benj snuck away from the camp, not stopping until far enough away to speak.

“A circle inscribed by a star,” Auggie said.  “That’s the Greenfield’s brand.  These are the guys.”

They pushed their pace and reached their horses, hidden in a shallow ravine.  A half hour of hard riding found them at a fort.

After straightening their uniforms and cleaning the mud off their faces, the two entered a wood shack and requested an audience with the night commander.  A page disappeared into the back and returned a moment later to escort them into an office.

Auggie saluted a gray-haired man seated behind a small desk.  “Major August Asher, sir.”

“Lieutenant Benjamin Flynn, sir.”

The grizzled colonel didn’t look up from his paperwork.  He signed his name and flipped a page.  “Report.”

Grinning, Benj bugged out his eyes and puffed his cheeks.  Auggie made subtle pats with his hands trying to get him to stop.

“Well?”  The colonel raised his head and frowned.  With Benj’s face reverted to normal, he caught only Auggie’s movement.  “Is that how you were taught to stand at attention?”

Auggie squelched the urge to glare at his friend and moved his hands back to his side.  “No sir.”

“I’m still waiting for your report.”

“We left Asherton a week ago to investigate accounts of a horse-thieving ring operating between the City and Ruferburg.  Scouts related the presence of unknown persons ten miles from this fort.  We infiltrated the camp and confirmed at least one horse with a brand matching the stolen property, sir.”

“Very well.”  The older man returned his eyes to the paper on his desk.  “Write the location and pertinent details, and I’ll see to it.  Lieutenant Ebers will direct you to the visiting officer quarters.  Dismissed.”

Neither of the junior officers moved.

“Sir, we’ve come all the way from Asherton.”   Benj enunciated clearly the first part of the name of the City.

The colonel looked at them with an annoyed expression.  “Yes.  The major included that information in his report.”

“Sir, we’d like to be included in the apprehension of these men, to be in on the fight, to duke it out with them, so to speak,” Benj said.  “You know, make them rue the day their mothers met their father.”  The last word came out hard.

Not wanting to be caught moving while at attention again, Auggie could only glare at his friend.

“Major,” the colonel said, “how would you address a request by two officers unfamiliar with the troops here at this fort, who are visibly road worn and weary, to join in a last minute stealth expedition?”

“Sir, I would deny the request and tell them to rest.”

“Good answer.  Once again, dismissed.”  He returned his attention to his paperwork.  As the two junior officers turned to leave, he called out.  “Lieutenant.”

They stopped and faced him.

The colonel met Benj’s eyes.  “I know well who your friend is.  A little tomfoolery is to be expected in the young, but try not to act like a complete idiot.”  He bent to sign another sheet of paper.

Auggie stifled a laugh and rushed outside before letting his guffaws escape.  His friend’s expression reminded Auggie of the time the duke caught Benj trying to peek at the maid in her bath. 

“I swear,” Auggie said, “when I become duke, I’m making you my general.  It’s the only fitting punishment.”

Benj froze.  “You wouldn’t.”  He stared with wide eyes.  “Seriously, Auggie.  You’re joking, right?  You wouldn’t be that cruel?”

Auggie chuckled.

“I need a drink.”  Benj’s pale face shone in the moonlight.  “We passed a tavern in that village a couple of miles up the road.”

“I’ve been traveling for a week, I’ve barely slept in that time, and it’s after midnight.  I’m not going anywhere except to find a bed.”