Dawn of the Golden Age (excerpt)

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Summary

After his career as a gunner in the Navy falls apart, Treva goes on the account. His newfound life is turned upside down when his crew accidentally kidnaps a rich merchant's daughter. She convinces Treva not to ransom her to her family, who has an engagement lined up for her that she swears will be the death of her. To further complicate matters, Treva is being hunted by two parties: an enemy he made while in the Navy, and his once-best friend who is now a Navy captain himself. Will Treva be able to outsmart those chasing him and escape the noose?

Genre:
Adventure / Action
Author:
AhiK
Status:
Excerpt
Chapters:
1
Rating:
n/a
Age Rating:
13+

Excerpt

Candles burned low in the tavern, casting unsteady light throughout the close space. The air was heavy with tobacco smoke, amongst other smells, and it was quite warm in the building. Seated around a table were Treva, Ethan, Jackson, and a handful of strangers. Each man’s face was a mask of solemnity, their eyes occasionally darting a glance at a neighbor. Held clenched tight in their fingers was a collection of playing cards, all dog-eared and grungy from much use.

One of the strangers played a card from his hand and drew one to replace it. It was Treva’s turn next. He casually tossed a card onto the pile in the middle of the table and drew a new one. Without even looking at it, he laid it face down along with the rest of his hand on the table and took a deep swig of his drink. He had long since begun feeling the alcohol’s effects and knew he was getting drunk. He did not care.

He waited until the next round to make his move. As he drew a card from the deck to replace the one he had flippantly thrown down, he tucked the card into his palm, thrusting it into his sleeve whilst drawing the one he had held concealed there. Though he usually did not take these games seriously enough to risk cheating, the pot had grown tantalizingly large.

What he had not counted on was his lack of coordination. He fumbled to conceal the new card whilst drawing the ace, completely botching the sleight of hand. Trying to act casual, he pretended to have dropped his card and bent as if to pick it up. To his dismay, the man sitting beside him was not as drunk as he. The man watched out of the corner of his eye as Treva struggled to complete the trade of cards and when the youth righted himself, the man barked out his accusation. “Yer cheatin’!” he growled with a particularly dark scowl that distorted the already ugly scars on his grizzled face.

Treva blinked and did his best to look taken aback. “I don’t know what you’re playing at, mate,” he remarked easily. He held up the ace he had swapped. “This is what I drew, fair and square. No need to be sore about it.” He set the card face down on the table along with the rest of his hand and lifted his tankard. Just as he was about to drink, the brute seized his shirtfront and yanked him up off the bench, toppling that piece of furniture in the process.

Treva pulled away from the fist but to no avail. The man lifted him higher until his toes barely touched the ground. Treva made a choking sound and tried to brace his own hands against the burly fist in an attempt to lessen the pressure on his windpipe.

Ethan rose precipitately. “Stop that! Put him down!”

The ruffian turned an ugly look on Ethan, making the latter shrink back ever so slightly. “Stay out of this,” the man growled, “unless yer a friend o’ his and want to share the beating he’s gonna get.”

“You have no proof he cheated,” Ethan argued boldly, if stupidly.

“Actually,” the man sneered, hefting Treva another inch higher, “I do!” He yanked Treva’s shirtsleeve open, tearing the fabric in his haste. The card Treva had concealed dropped to the ground and landed face-up. It was an ace.

The man stared at it stupidly for a long moment. Treva did not wait for him to recover; he wound back and struck the man squarely in the jaw. Though it served the purpose of freeing him from his captor’s grasp, Treva regretted the action, fearing he had done more injury to his hand than to his opponent.

Shaking his hand to dissipate the sting, Treva backed up. In his stupor he was not paying attention to his surroundings. He tripped over the fallen bench, toppling backward. Turing the fall into a somersault, he unsteadily got to his feet. His vision was blurred by the alcohol, his coordination disrupted. He blinked slowly, deliberately, trying to focus his vision.

Before he could compose himself, the man charged him and gave him a hard shove. Treva went sprawling backward. The man delivered a kick; Treva rolled over and the blow hit his back glancingly.

Ethan intervened, grabbing hold of Treva’s upper arm and hauling him unceremoniously to his feet. Bracing his drunk friend, Ethan turned a hard look on the other man. “Just take your share of the money, then. There’s no reason to fight over something so trivial.”

“Don’t touch those coins!” Treva barked obnoxiously, trying to pull out of Ethan’s grasp. He made grabbing gestures at the coins even though they were well beyond his reach. Ethan gave him a rough shake to silence him.

“Yer friend should learn to hold his liquor,” one of the thugs growled.

“Take your money and go,” Ethan repeated in an even tone. He kept a firm hold of Treva, who was making ineffectual attempts to break free and charge the larger men.

“Er, Ethan,” Jackson murmured, slinking up beside his crew mates, “call me crazy but I don’t think they’re inclined to take your advice. What say we grab and run?”

Ethan narrowed his eyes, gauging their opponents. His eyes darted between the thugs, Treva, and the coins littering the table top. It would be a shame to leave the spoils behind, but they were definitely out-muscled by the older, burlier sailors.

As he was making his calculations he missed the look that passed between Treva and Jackson.

Without warning Treva yanked free of Ethan’s grasp and launched himself clumsily at the nearest man, fists swinging. Jackson ducked around Ethan, flinging himself onto the table and frantically scraping the coins together. Ethan watched them in mute horror, unable to fathom what they were doing.

When a stray kick from the brawl Treva had started clipped his arm, Ethan broke from his reverie and joined the fray. He shoved his way to the center of the throng, where he found Treva lying on the ground on his back, punching and kicking for all he was worth. His nose was already bloody.

Ethan grabbed the arm of one of the men who had it raised to strike. Wrenching the limb back, he managed to fling the brute from the ring of fighting men. Pushing through the gap he had created he leaned down and grabbed Treva’s arm, yanking him to his feet.

Jackson was raking his fingers across the rough-hewn tabletop, ignoring the splinters that buried into his flesh in his desperation to collect the coins. Heavy hands fell on his shoulders, took up fistfuls of his shirt, and hauled him backward. Jackson watched in despair as the pile of glinting silver and gold faded beyond his reach.

He found himself set roughly on his feet and spun around only to find himself facing one of the irate sailors. His blood went cold; he was not one for hand-to-hand combat. Jackson did what he did best when he was outmatched: he made a run for it.

Treva was disoriented by finding himself suddenly pulled to his feet. He blinked heavily, trying to straighten his ale-distorted vision. When he had a grasp of his senses his gaze fell immediately upon the pile of glinting coins.

Darting around the table, Jackson used all of his agility in the limited space to avoid the grasping hands of the men who meant to do him harm. He felt a fist glance off his shoulder and instinctively darted in the opposite direction.

A bench, miraculously still upright, stood in his path. Feeling the pressure of pursuit close behind, Jackson leapt up onto the bench only to discover that one of its legs was unsound. The board wobbled dangerously beneath him as Jackson struggled to keep his balance. Panicking, he made his dismount but the bench collapsed as he pushed off, souring his attempt.

Jackson tumbled to the ground in a tangle of limbs. His back struck something and he blearily looked up. One of the sailors, fists curled and raised threateningly, stood over him. Scrambling, Jackson tried to gain his feet. When he was halfway up the brute kicked him in the ribs, knocking him back down. Jackson curled into a ball, protecting his face with his forearms. He lashed out with a defiant kick, catching the older man on the ankle.

Before the beating could continue, Ethan intervened. He had left off protecting Treva for the moment and turned his attention to saving Jackson’s hide. As the burly sailor leaned down to pound on Jackson, Ethan grabbed hold of the huge wrist – his fingers did not come close to encircling the full girth of it – and used all his strength to yank the man away from his friend. When the sailor turned an ugly sneer on the younger, Ethan wound up and punched the man with all his strength.

The blow proved mostly ineffectual and a second later Ethan found the sailor’s calloused hand wrapped around his throat.

Jackson scrambled to his feet, chest heaving and face bloodied from the attack. He watched with mouth agape as the sailor lifted Ethan off the ground with nothing more than his grip on the younger man’s neck. Ethan scrabbled madly, clawing at the weathered fist.

Jackson, spooked by the brutality of the fight, stood immobile for what seemed eons. Then, his fight-or-flight instincts kicked in. In defense of his friend, he did the only thing that he thought might buy them some time: he kicked the sailor in the balls.

As the large man dropped, holding his crotch and gasping in pain, Ethan pulled free of the terrifying grip. Panting, he turned and grabbed hold of Jackson’s shirtsleeve, pulling his stunned friend along with him.

They sprinted for the exit, shoving their way through the melee.

“What about Trev?” Jackson gasped, realizing their party was one short.

The question made Ethan pull up short. The pair stood, gasping for air, scanning the writing bodies in search of their friend. Ethan was just about to rejoin the battle when a voice brought him up short.

“What about me?”

“Treva!” Ethan exhaled in relief, turning to face the source of the voice. He had not been eager to return to the fight. Still, the sudden appearance of his crewmate, relatively unscathed, almost made him want to strangle the boastful rat.

Treva held up a heavily laden leather purse. He shook it once, twice, eliciting a metallic jangle that no one could mistake.

“How’d you get the coins?!” Jackson exclaimed in glee. He had been loathe to leave the loot and, having cleared the fray, almost had returned to scoop up what he could.

“That’s neither here nor there,” Treva replied with a dismissive wave of his hand. His lip was split and new bruises were brightening on his skin. He was no worse for the wear; if anything the fight had sobered him up some.

“There they are!”

The trio jumped at the exclamation and turned in time to see the angry sailors banding together and coming straight for them.

“Shall we?” Jackson murmured to his companions. He was the first out the door. Ethan and Treva followed hot on his heels. They sprinted out into the lane, expecting the pursuit to die off once they were clear of the tavern.

They were wrong.

The sailors continued coming at them, full of bloodlust and fury.

“We can’t go back to our quarters, not right away,” Ethan cautioned.

“That’s good, since we have yet to let any,” Jackson quipped. They had just come into port that afternoon and had not had time to rent rooms.

“Relax, we’ve got coin,” Treva reminded them, jangling the purse.

“Best to let this cool down before we settle in anywhere,” Ethan, the voice of reason, replied.

Their conversation stopped there by necessity, as the brutes were almost upon them. The boys took off running, all in varying states of sobriety.

“Come and get it, if you dare!” Treva threw over his shoulder as he ran.

“Really, do you have to antagonize the angry mob?” Jackson snapped.

“Shut up Treva,” Ethan ordered coldly.

As the pursuit continued, taking them ever further inland, the three began to get winded. Their forte was strength, not stamina.

“Just throw them the money and let’s be done with it,” Ethan advised as they paused in an alley to catch their breath.

“No!”

“Are you nuts?”

The exclamations had been uttered at the same time with equal ferocity. Ethan sighed heavily, knowing he was outmatched and that it would take too much time to talk the others around to sense, if he even could. “Alright then,” he panted, straightening up. He surveyed their surroundings. “We’ll sleep outside of town tonight and return tomorrow. I doubt they’ll follow us into the wild countryside.”

“I doubt I’ll follow you into the wild countryside,” Jackson replied dryly.

“You’d rather get pummeled again?”

“Hey, I had that fight well in hand.”

“So I could see.”

“Shut it.”

“Run!” Treva grabbed both their arms and gave them a sound yank as he jumped into action. Ethan and Jackson heeded his command and ran after him. Ethan soon took the lead, having been the only one remotely familiar with the town’s layout. He had been there once before, years ago. He led them further and further inland until the buildings grew more spread out. Eventually they entered the tree line where no structures were to be found at all.

As they had hoped, they lost the mob of angry men when they left the town. Still, not wanting to risk getting found later on, they kept going until Bordeaux was far behind them.


A/N: This has been an excerpt from one of my upcoming novels. If you enjoyed it I would appreciate you following my author profile on Amazon (https://www.amazon.com/Ahi-Keleher/e/B00KGG3K64) to be informed when the full novel is released.

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