Excerpt from Storm Surge by Gail Z. Martin
“Don’t let the horses drown!”
Jonmarc Vahanian grasped the reins of the horse he was leading, fighting the panicked animal as he tried to move through surging waters that were proving far swifter than expected. “I’m trying not to drown myself!” he shot back. Thunder roared and lightening flashed.
All around him, the caravan maneuvered skittish horses, stubborn oxen, and heavily loaded carts through water that was flowing swiftly and rising steadily. They had been caught in the lowlands by a heavy rainstorm, and the sodden ground flooded far more quickly than anyone had expected.
Nearby, a man screamed and was swept off his feet and under the thigh-deep water.
“Hold this!” Jonmarc shouted to the man nearest him, handing off the reins. He grabbed a nearby sapling and thrust his arm down into the water, grasping at the coat that was barely visible beneath the surface. At seventeen, he was six feet tall, strong from years of working in the blacksmith’s forge. It took all of his strength to keep his hold on the sapling and not lose his grip on the hapless man’s coat.
“Help me out here,” Jonmarc yelled, but his voice barely carried above the storm. His grip was waning, and the man in the current bobbed above the surface, sputtering for air, only to disappear once more. Jonmarc could feel the man scrabbling for a foothold, but he also knew his own position was growing more tenuous with each passing moment.
He gave a mighty pull with the last of his strength, and popped the man above the water once more, yanking him out of the worst of the current. They clung to the sapling, heaving for breath, as the rain pelted them and the wind plastered their wet clothing to their skin.
Jonmarc got a look at the man for the first time. It was Russ, a slender, bearded man who often worked with the caravan’s exotic animals. “Thanks. I thought I was a goner,” Russ said with an exhausted grin.
So did I, Jonmarc thought, but did not voice his thoughts aloud.
Shouting from the bedraggled procession of caravaners roused Jonmarc, and he looked up to see a human chain stretching across the treacherous stream to where the wagons sat on solid ground on the other side. Jonmarc made sure that Russ was secure, and then reclaimed his horse and took his position at the end of the chain.
Twice, his feet were nearly swept out from under him as he was pulled across the stream. After a few harrowing moments, he reached firm footing beside a wagon, and collapsed against it, breathing hard, adrenalin tingling through his body at the near miss.
“Yer lucky Jonmarc has a blacksmith’s grip,” the wagon driver said to Russ, who was pale and shaking. He turned to Jonmarc. “Nice catch.”
“Keep moving, or we’ll all be fishes!” Maynard Linton, the caravan master, shouted loudly enough to be heard over the storm.
Jonmarc hoisted Russ into the bed of the wagon, judging that he was too shaken and exhausted to fight the floodwaters. He took back the reins of the horse he had been leading. Despite his cloak, he was soaked to the skin, and his long, chestnut-brown hair was plastered against his scalp, strands finding their way into his eyes.
It was early spring in the highlands of Margolan, and the snows in the mountains had been particularly heavy, making for swollen rivers and creeks. Maynard Linton’s caravan–part traders and part traveling show–wound its way from the Borderlands in the far north across the kingdom. Whenever the caravan reached a populated area that looked prosperous enough to afford them a paying audience, they made camp for a few days to a few weeks, moving on when the novelty had worn off.
Only a month had passed since Jonmarc joined the caravan, fleeing the burning remains of his village and the monsters that had claimed the lives of his wife and child. Linton had taken him in when he had shown up in the middle of the night, bloodied from the fight and nearly incoherent with shock and loss. Since then, Jonmarc had lost himself in the caravan’s never-ending need for a blacksmith’s skills, staying busy to keep from thinking about what he left behind.