Forgotten Sidekicks: Charioteer

I’ve always enjoyed writing for themed short story collections. With a specific brief to work to, and a limited word count, they’re much more akin to a classic journalistic assignment or essay, allowing you to really focus your energies in a concentrated blast, exploring specific themes or genres you might not have considered left to your own devices. It also helps when the subject matter is an interesting, intriguing or challenging one.

Which brings me neatly on to Forgotten Sidekicks UK/US, a brand new collection from Grimbold Books which releases today and which I was delighted to contribute to. These are stories about assistants, wingmen, henchmen or henchladies, a neglected but equally as fascinating breed as the main hero or villain. What motivates them? Why did they throw in their lot with the protagonist? What keeps them around? Interesting questions indeed…

Published by Kristell Ink, the sci-fi and fantasy arm of Grimbold Books, and edited by the excellent Peter Sutton and Steven Poore there’s a wealth of great writing and editorial talent in this one, including contributions from Courtney M Privett, Desmond Warzel, Donald Jacob Uitvlugt, Allen Stroud, Su Haddrell, Chrissey Harrison, Ian Hunter, Steve Dillon and Jim Horlock.

My own story, Charioteer is a tale of sibling rivalry, in a (hopefully) far flung future where nation states indulge in ritualistic combat to settle access to resources, crops and trade. as well as for sporting kudos, glory and entertainment. Here’s the summary:

Driver Soola has long stood in the shadow of her Charioteer champion brother Nique, but his pride, hubris and downright boorishness creates an irreconcilable wedge between them on the eve of their most important and deadly contest yet.

Sound interesting? There’s an extract below to whet your appetite, but with the Kindle Version £4.60 or $5, and the paperback at just £9.99 this is a splendid collection to help pass the hours in these strange times and a great opportunity to support a brilliant smaller press. Enjoy!

Charioteer

The beasts are blowing, sweating, their flanks heaving with their exertions, but I give the lightest tug on the reins and we wheel again, the chariot slewing around in a tight arc, skids biting into the powder. My whip remains untouched, I simply call and Trickster and Nightjar prick up their ears and their twelve hooves thunder, chopping up sprays of snow. We accelerate with such velocity that my knee threatens to buckle and I have to grab hold of the rail to steady myself. 

“Faster, sister, faster!” Despite the shuddering speed, Nique stands there perfectly balanced, hefting a heavy javelin in his muscular right arm.

Beyond the beasts’ wild tumult of horn and mane, I see our enemy, slower in the turn, not as agile as we, only now just drawing back onto the parallel course which will see us pass each other again. We hurtle along, bearing down on them, the beasts’ legs beating a staccato rhythm.

“Steady now Soola, steady now…”

There’s no need to tell me. I whistle and the team respond as one, their stride becoming regular, metronomic, like the steady rat-a-tat-tat of a war drum.

Our foes are within two hundred strides now. The low, pale sun glints off the warrior’s armour, his tower shield held high, his javelin readied. His charioteer is fighting for control, flogging her beasts into a jolting acceleration as they strain to get up to speed.

Trickster and Nightjar surge, eager to close with our foe, but a light pull on the reins corrects them, and all becomes gliding smoothness again.

A hundred strides now and the charioteer wrestles with her charges, desperately trying to steady them, provide the ideal platform. The warrior is huge, wild braids lassoing around his face, but through excitement or fear he’s over eager and hurls his missile putting his whole shoulder into it. It’s too early and Nique, who typically eschews any form of shield, simply inclines his body slightly and watches it fly harmlessly past. Now Nique’s arm is a blur, and his javelin flies and buries itself in that great escutcheon. A miss? No, it was made for such a purpose, the heavy tip passes through and stays lodged, its weight dragging the warrior’s arm down. Nique nonchalantly flicks another missile from foot to hand in the passing of a thought and his javelin pierces the warrior’s exposed shoulder, drawing forth a great spray of arterial blood.

As the chariots pass, Trickster bites, tearing a great rent of flesh from the foe’s lead creature and it screams its agonies. I haul on the reins, blood trails in the snow. We circle slowly now into the formal position so that we face each other and Nique hops lightly off the backboard, hefting his great bearded axe.

Staggering from shock and blood loss, his left arm hanging almost useless, the warrior emerges to face Nique. I watch the foe’s charioteer through the clouds steaming from the team’s pelts. The colour has drained from her face and she won’t catch my eye, perhaps already knowing what’s to come. The warrior has courage, and comes on at the run, bellowing his pain and anger, wildly swinging his curved sword. Nique is still as a millpond. He deftly ducks the first uncoordinated blow, takes a step to the side and then smites the warrior’s head from his shoulders with one clean stroke. The charioteer sags and watching, so must her nation.

Nique retrieves the severed head, bounces back to the chariot and tosses it to me in a bloody arc. “Put it with the others,” he says, grinning.


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