TARNISH: prologue

Being a hero isn’t as easy as the tavern tales would have you believe. 

Billy Cole has always been a quick study, be it at telling tales, brewing ale, or swordplay. 

And yet it surprises Wil Thunderstrike, his alter ego, at just how hard and fast the lessons come on his first venture into the real world of back-alley thieves, traveling talespinners, and warriors of renown.  

Wil’s quest is to find epic heroes to save his home town, but it'll take more than a sword and the inspiring tales of his legendary idols to survive the harsh world beyond Redfield.  And the further he travels into the night, the darker he gets.

Tarnish is a grittier coming-of-age story than you’re used to, where destiny is forged, not written.  

What kind of hero would you be?

Available everywhere books are sold in ebook and paperback. 
Audiobook now available on Amazon, Audible.com, and iTunes.
Here's a sample to whet your appetite:
A Past Fall

     "Redfield sounds like a very nice place to be from,” Trevor mused. He leaned against the wheel

of the blacksmith’s war wagon, reaching through the spokes to finger tools that lay in an open

chest. “Maybe I’ll be from there myself, someday.”

     “You can’t be from somewhere later,” Ian Cole grumbled. The burly smithy sat on a tree

stump, scraping an irregular wedge of whetstone along the curved sword in his hand. His words

barely escaped the thick, black beard that hung from his face. “You either are or you’re not.”

     “Well, I don’t claim anywhere as home as yet,” Trevor said, “but I believe it helps a soldier

to find passion and a foundation of heart in war if he has something to fight for. Adventure and

good brew were my only compass points, before all this mess. Now what choice do we have,

eh? Fight or be conquered. We either give our homeland over to the Dread Duke and his fiends

or we muster any able-bodied man—or woman for that matter, and I’ve met some that could

wrestle you into their beds, my gigantic friend...” Trevor winked.

     “I have a wife,” Ian growled, slapping the stone to the hilt again and drawing it down the

length of the sword. “And a son.”

     Trevor’s eyes lit like candles. “Ah-ha. Just what I’m talking about, my wholesome friend.

You have a foundation, a hearth, and loving home worth fighting for. You have something to

give you passion and drive you in battle. To... well, frankly, sir,” he said, a bit lower, “to give

you courage when your knees falter. I don’t have that and my knees, therefore, are prone to fits

of nervous near-buckling. I’m a wanderer, sir. A lover, sure, but only from the britches, not

from the breast.” He tapped his narrow chest.

     A gust of wind blew Trevor’s wavy red locks into his face, forcing him to smooth them back

with both hands to wrap with a small leather tie. Ian recognized the strip of hide as one of his

own, obviously just pilfered from his tool box. “What are their names,” Trevor said, “if I may


     Ian hesitated. He was not in the habit of sharing anything personal about his life with these

men. He was quiet by nature, but also by choice. There was something about the storyteller

though—his honesty, and his desperation—that made him answer. “Sasha is my wife. My son

we call Billy.”

     “Billy! William is his name then? William Cole. A burning spark from his father’s flint,

no doubt. How old is the boy? Is he near as big as his father?”

     Despite his usual reluctance, Ian found himself suddenly happy to talk about his family.

They were, in fact, the very reason he was able to continue fighting in this damned war.

“He’s only six,” he admitted, “but stands as tall as an eight-springs-old. Been a full grown

grasshopper since the day his mother made him. Climbs and jumps off everything taller than

himself. The boy’s not... reserved like his father."   

     Was that a faint grin almost breaking across the proud father’s lips? Ian felt the twitch of it

in his cheeks and fought it down.

     Trevor wagged a finger at him. “‘Reserved.’ I like that. You’re a more cunning wordsmith

than you let on, Master Cole. You should talk more often.”

     “And you talk to too much!” yelled a passerby. Three soldiers moving past the smithy’s

wagon howled with laughter. “Trevor the Mouth,” one of them barked.
     "And no one was talking to you three gentlemen!” Trevor called after them. His tone was

diplomatic; he obviously wanted to be angry but didn’t want to damage any potential friendships.

Not that there’d be any. The other Oxhides called him Trevor the Mouth or Trevor the Lip,

depending on who was saying it and how drunk they were. The two names were

interchangeable. No one knew Trevor’s true surname; he invented a new one with each

exaggerated story he told. His deep-cutting wit was another reason for his unpopularity;

sometimes Trevor’s jokes were so honest and scathing that they left his victims with deep

wounds. He therefore most often attached himself to Ian’s side. It seemed only natural: Trevor

never stopped talking and Ian hardly started. The quiet blacksmith left a void in the air and

Trevor figured that was an invitation to fill it. Ian was also about the only man in the company

who didn’t ridicule the storyteller. Not because he cared much for him, but because he didn’t

care much for anyone in particular. The giant, brooding blacksmith was revered and respected

for his skills and strength, so much so that the other pikemen of his squad all jostled in formation

to stand next to him for protection in battle. But despite his minor celebrity among the Oxhides,

Ian kept mostly to himself. Unofficially, he supposed, he and Trevor were the closest thing to

friends each other had in this entire war.

     He tossed the whetstone into the open chest, where it clattered against other tools, then rose

to his feet with sword in hand. An instinctual nervousness flashed in Trevor’s eyes and he

backed up a step. The dark giant radiated fear, whether he intended to or not. Ian turned the

pommel toward Trevor. “This I made for you,” he said.

     Trevor pursed his lips, about to speak but speechless.

     “It’s lighter weight than most, and the curve of the blade makes it better for slashing.

Especially useful on horseback.” Trevor was one of the Oxhides’ mounted scouts.

     “You truly made this for me?”

     Someone in camp whooped loudly, a subtle call for attention. A few shrill whistles went

out. The men were passing a warning among their brother soldiers from one end of the camp to

the other. Ian and Trevor’s ears perked up too, and they looked about for the source of the

excitement. Not far away was the command tent and standing outside of it was Alfred of

Cattlehorn, the Oxhides’ captain and namesake. He was older, thinner, and more crooked of

posture than one might expect to see on a field of battle, but the men liked to say that it was their

leader’s fox-craft and orneriness that shaped him so. He was wearing the dull officer’s mail that

Ian had repaired just the day before. Alfred wore the armor more often for political reasons than

for combat; he was uncomfortable being better protected than those that served beside him, and

there wasn’t enough expensive armor for the common soldiers to enjoy. But when the captain

was reporting to a general, or when he was expecting visitors of some import...
     There, Ian thought, spying the reason. He audibly sighed.

     “I agree,” Trevor said. “That mule’s ass is the reason Uncle Alfred is wearing his Saintsday

best today?”

     A rider on horseback entered the camp. He also wore armor, an unkempt patchwork of

leather and plates that he’d scavenged from a dead soldier of the Duke’s Rogue Army. A

crescent-shaped shield hung at his side, painted with the face of an angry moon. His head was as

smooth and pale as a stone.

     “What do you call him in your dirty little tales?” Ian asked.

     Trevor gave a sly grin. “Bald-Headed Bert. The fork-tongued ambassador of the Crescent

Moons. Many’s the brothel cleaning hag who’s met that snake’s charm.” He twitched two

fingers in front of his lips. A low chuckle rumbled beneath Ian’s beard.

     The Moons were a brother company of soldiers, all defenders of the Free Fertile Lands from

the invading, immortal Duke, but they had a bad reputation. Each company of the Free Peoples

Army was essentially an independent unit of brave volunteers loosely serving under the

command of higher officers, who coordinated the Free Peoples’ resistance on their behalf. The

last time the Oxhides had seen Bert and his four-hundred or so companions, the man had had a

large, suspicious sore on his mouth. Trevor’s talespinning for the next week involved the

various ways he might have earned it. Whether they generally found him annoying or not, all the

Oxhides had enjoyed Trevor’s fireside stories on those evenings.

     Bald-Headed Bert dismounted from his grey mare and shook hands with the Oxhides’

captain. A third man appeared from the officers’ tent and shook hands with Bert as well. He

was tall and broad-shouldered with a corn silk beard and braids, his body girded in a polished


     “And he’s not much better,” Ian muttered. The Oxhides had picked up Lieutenant Gregor

somewhere along the way. He was a professional, a soldier of fortune who had made his living

swinging a rather large mace around even before the war. He was very good at his chosen

profession, and made sure everyone knew it.  Lieutenant Peacock, Trevor called him, though 

rarely within earshot and only behind the protective snickering of fellow soldiers. Gregor

usually wore a helmet decorated with a bristling purple crest right down the middle of it. He

would stand out in any army, and he certainly did among the farmers and tradesmen of the


     The three officers—Alfred, Gregor, and Bert—conversed only briefly before the peacock

turned, searched the crowd of on-looking soldiers, and picked out Trevor with his hawk-like blue


     “Uh-oh,” Trevor said. “Here comes fancy britches.”

     “Can’t say I like that lieutenant much,” Ian said. “I like him even less than I do you. And I

like that Crescent Moon Bert least of all.” He pressed the newly made sword into Trevor’s hand,

who limply took the weapon and stood suddenly dumbfounded and broken hearted. “So I guess

that at least makes you third from the bottom.” Ian’s lips curled into a barely visible half-smile.

It was as much mirth as anyone had seen from him since the war began.

     Trevor’s expression cracked in relief and he slapped the blacksmith’s shoulder. Then he felt

the weight of his new weapon and took a couple practice swings. “Lighter than I’m used to. I

like it. Good for fighting from horseback, you say?”

     “What’s that twig you’re swinging about?” Gregor spat. “What is that, Master Cole, a bit of

scrap you had left over?”

     “What news?” Ian said, peering down on the mercenary officer. Gregor stared up from

beneath the rim of his crested helmet, meeting the challenge in Ian’s tone. There were few men

in the in the company who could bear the lieutenant’s stony glare. But there were none who

could bear Ian Cole’s.

     Gregor blinked. “The Moons have come across some blue-skins. Lots of them. We’re

going to come around while they hold their ground and keep the zogs’ attention. Muster some

scouts, Lip,” he told Trevor, “and see what you can see. Pack up your tools, Master Cole. Our

little holiday is over.”

     Gregor turned and walked back toward the tent where Alfred and the Crescent Moon’s

envoy were still talking. Other soldiers nearby had overheard Gregor and were already passing

the word to strike camp. The blacksmith and scout shared a look. Trevor shrugged, thanked him

again for the sword, and went off to find his horse.

     By mid-afternoon the next day, all but three Oxhides would be dead.

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