It was a very long, difficult battle, but after more than two months of slugging it out, round after round, the Equus Battle Royal has a victor:
Congratulations to Nova and Reaver for making it all the way through the tournament to come out on top, and congratulations also to Peregrine the damned soul who gave the war unicorn team some strong competition!
Please enjoy the short excerpt from each of their stories:
Excerpt from “Rue the Day” by Laura VanArendonk Baugh:
There was a small group gathered on the beach, half-ringed about a woman of perhaps forty, dressed in fitted skirts with her hair drawn back severely. Trainer Isabel, stablemaster and head of all the royal trainers, stepped close to speak with her, and Galyne thought they might have been sisters.
Then Trainer Isabel stepped back to join the half-circle. “We are ready when you wish.”
The sun dipped against the ocean. Rue stepped close to Galyne, keeping his eyes on the sorceress as if he did not trust her. Sorceresses had that effect on people, especially at first.
The woman spoke strange words in an awful voice and raised her bare hands against the wind and sea. She stood immovable on the wet sand, deliberately weaving her hands as if to pull the wind like wool or candy.
And then, as another wave rolled to break against the shore, Galyne saw a horse’s form in the waves, its mane rising and falling with the waves’ crests, though there was no flesh-and-blood horse there. The dread woman on the sand called again, and the head broke above the water, an ivory horn piercing the air.
The unicorn was the color of night upon the ocean, its mane and tail like foam lit by moonlight. It rose majestically from the waves and stepped onto the packed sand, arching its thick crest as if aware of its own powerful beauty. It paused before the woman who had summoned it from the elements and raked the sand with one magnificent hoof.
“Reaver,” said the sorceress simply, and the beast bowed its head in gracious acknowledgment. Trainer Isabel stepped forward, extending a halter of worked silver and gems, and the unicorn tossed its head, sending spray over the women, and then extended its neck to accept the halter.
“How does she do it?” Rue whispered.
“It’s a request,” Galyne said. “She invites a unicorn from the elements, but it is always the unicorn’s choice. She grinned. “You don’t argue with a creature of magic who has agreed to fight on your behalf.”
Reaver, gleaming with seawater and his new silver halter, walked away with Trainer Isabel. Galyne’s eyes followed them. “I hope I have a chance at him,” she said. “He’s gorgeous.”
“Like everything to do with unicorns,” Rue said, and there was a note in his voice which should not have been there.
Galyne looked at him, but he was watching the sorceress and Trainer Isabel, and she did not ask him to explain.
Excerpt from “Riders in the Sky” by V.F. LeSann:
The storm shook the tavern as it descended into the valley, drowning out most conversation between the women. Jovial whoops mingled with the wind and the distinct sound of iron hooves within the thunder. The hissing crack of a whip. Her shoulder ached fiercely.
The cacophony persisted for what seemed like hours and Delia eventually got to her feet, peering out through the boarded window.
“Should’ve been done by now,” she murmured. “Clouds are dipping low. Looks like we’re in the middle of the warpath.”
Her voice trailed off as she peered closer, her eyes widening in shock, oblivious to the boards bowing near her face.
Hennessy leapt to her feet, pushing Delia to the ground as the wood splintered. Delia’s scream was punctuated with another shout from within the tavern. She stayed crouched low, guiding Delia to the door as the storm whipped through the broken window.
“Delia?” someone bellowed, followed by the sound of snapping wood and another scream from a neighbouring room.
Hennessy kept Delia shielded as dusky wisps of cloud seeped into the room. She heaved the door open and launched them both onto the landing, slamming it closed behind them.
“We’re alright, Sergei!” Delia yelled, finding her voice. “Damn it.” She fumbled to tear the hem of her dress with shaking hands.
Instead, Hennessy pulled a handkerchief from her pocket and dabbed the blood dripping down the side of Delia’s face.
“I thought I saw a boy in the storm. West Osmond.” Delia winced at Hennessy’s touch, and took over, pressing the cloth firmly against her temple. “You can’t believe what you see. Sometimes the storm shows you things. Things to make you come out and get caught in it.”
Hennessy steadied the other woman and hustled down the stairs. A prickle of fractured memories made Delia’s suspicion feel true.
“I’ll be fine,” Delia assured. “We’ve got a bunker beneath the floor, but Sergei isn’t going to let you in after how the two of you got off.” Wind whipped through the exposed bar, slamming doors and shaking rafters. “There’s a tunnel, under the last table on your right. It leads over to the church. Father Monaghan will let you in. He can’t say no if you ask for sanctuary.” She gave a wry smile. “Old custom, but useful for us shadowy women.”
Delia quickly unfastened her cloak and tossed it to Hennessy before standing on her own strength.
“Take this and stay outta that storm, you hear?”
Hennessy clasped the cloak around her neck, running across the empty bar, and hauling chairs aside until she found the entrance to the tunnel. Slamming it closed above her, she fled into the earthy darkness.
‘Are you safe?’ Peregrine’s panicked thoughts flooded her mind. ‘Has the wind blown you out to them? You are very small, with only two legs…”
In a blatant and transparent attempt to get more votes I’ve also been giving away a book to random voters. This week’s giveaway was complicated by the fact my blog was down for a bit on Saturday and to fix it we had to roll it back to a previous version of itself. A version that didn’t include most of the votes that had been cast. Thankfully I had a physical tallysheet showing what the scores were, but not the individual voters.
I wanted to thank those voters who came back and commented to re-add their name into the draw, so this week I had Siri choose two random winners.
Sarah Miller and Rachel, Siri has chosen you as the winners of this week’s draw. Please drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org to choose your prize and tell me where to send it.
On a related note, some of the other prizes have not been claimed and were won by people who didn’t leave an email address. So, if you happen to know Tobin Elliott and/or Sylvie Stulic give them a nudge in my direction, would you?
If you’ve enjoyed the excerpts from the anthology I’ve been providing through this competition, or hell, even #EquusFight itself, please consider pre-ordering a copy of Equus today. I’d really appreciate it — pre-orders are important.