Excerpt from Dead Man’s Bet

Up ahead, the ruins of an old barn hunkered on the right, and not far behind it, the dark fringe of the Ruune Vidaya forest. The sound of hoof beats made Jonmarc turn to see four men on horseback riding down one of the farm lanes. They turned onto the road behind the group.

In the distance, Jonmarc spotted more travelers, coming their way. “We’re not the only ones traveling anymore,” he said.

Steen looked worried. “No, we’re not. Funny how that changed all of a sudden.”

Vitt and Mort must have also concluded that something was amiss. Jonmarc saw both men flick their cloaks back to give them fast access to their swords. Dugan drew his knife and laid it across his lap. The drizzle gave way to rain, and in the distance, Jonmarc heard thunder.

Leaving the road to go around the newcomers would have been difficult on horseback. It was impossible for the wagons, even if the edges of the road had not been mud. The two wagons pulled to one side to let the oncoming rider pass. Behind Jonmarc and Steen, the second group of riders were closing quickly.

The oncoming riders moved to the other side. But once they drew level with the first wagon, two of the riders wheeled on Betta and Jemman, swords drawn, while the other two rode for Vitt and Mort.

Behind them, four more riders spurred their horses on, quickly closing the gap, swords raised. And rising from the tall, dead weeds on the side of the road, four additional men leapt from cover, armed with knives and swords.

Jonmarc drew his sword fast enough to block the downward swing of the nearest brigand. An odd triangle-shaped tattoo on the man’s left hand caught Jonmarc’s eye.

Steen was already battling an attacker of his own, while ahead, Dugan slashed at a man who tried to grab the reins. Kegan made boils rise on the arms of the man who tried to drag him from his seat. Betta was smacking one of the robbers with her walking stick. Jemman, for all his shyness, landed a solid roundhouse punch to the jaw of the man who grabbed at his leg.

“They’re not robbers,” Steen shouted, glancing at the odd tattoos. “They’re slavers! Fight for your lives!”