Pyramid of Blood (Swords Versus Tanks Book 3)

BOOK: Pyramid of Blood (Swords Versus Tanks Book 3)
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Contents

Book 3 PYRAMID OF BLOOD

Copyright

Dedications

CHAPTER ONE

CHAPTER TWO

CHAPTER THREE

CHAPTER FOUR

CHAPTER FIVE

CHAPTER SIX

CHAPTER SEVEN

CHAPTER EIGHT

CHAPTER NINE

CHAPTER TEN

CHAPTER ELEVEN

Swords Versus Tanks 3:

Pyramid of blood!

By

M Harold Page

(c) M Harold Page 2015

Dedicated to my old High School English teacher, Mrs Weatherston. She didn’t like speculative fiction but took us seriously when we defended it. Actually she took us seriously in general, which was — in hindsight — a special thing and I wish I had said thanks.

As always, with special thanks to the eagle-eyed Neil MacCormack for yet more editing help.

Cover art (c) Cassie Mayo 2015.
http://www.lintpress.com/
For Swords Versus Tanks merchandise, including coffee mugs and (I kid you not) shower curtains, see links on her website.

 

CHAPTER ONE

 

Colleagues! It is time for plain speaking. Going forward, Integration Workers pro-actively leverage our ongoing commitment to the process of identifying and securing a synergistic multi-functional strategy for realigning – and integrating (pause for laughter) — key indigenous opinion-formers, especially those occupying critical nexuses in the existing, though outmoded, social stratification.

— David Hamilton, speech notes for "The Integration Triangle" (presented to the People’s Committee, 1925)

#

Tom leaned out of the unglazed window and feasted his eyes.

Below in the training courtyard, Edward stood with raised sword. The youth circled the wooden stake – the
pell
— his wiry body stretching and contracting with each nimble step. There was something about tight medieval costume which turned young men into dancers.

Tom leaned further out.
Marcel would have appreciated this
. The sadness rolled over him. He tried not to react; just let the feeling ebb and flow.

The sword snapped forward. Edward whirled and the blunt edge barely touched the wood. His arms worked like opposing pistons. The sword whipped around and just as he sidestepped…
tapped
the other side of the pell.

Tom found that his mouth had gone dry. He knew the sword was designed to maim and kill – he’d seen the bodies of fallen Force Application Workers — but Edward made it look graceful.

It wasn’t just the power, it was the control. Even with the blunt sword, Edward could have knocked a lump out of the wooden post. It was the sort of control that Marcel had had: he could kill a man without breaking sweat, but hold Tom’s hand through the nightmares.

"So, is there a point to this?"

Tom turned and found himself facing Postmaster General Hamilton. He opened his mouth to ask whether there was news of the expedition — Jasmine had been gone a week now.

Smith edged out from behind Hamilton. His face was a study in concern, but his single eye twinkled with glee. "Sorry Tom, you never explained it to me so I didn’t know what to say."

I never explained because you were too busy by the fireside drinking moonshine liquor and scheming with your friends.
Tom gave his best smile. "Isn’t it obvious?" He laughed. "We can’t bully him into being a friend of the Egality."

Hamilton put a hand on Tom’s shoulder. "We don’t need friendship, right now, Tom, just acquiescence to the Will of the People. Smith has assured me that he can bring Edward around more with efficiency using… a shock treatment."

Tom resisted the urge to turn away. He wanted to trust Postmaster General Hamilton, really he did. "But we’re the good guys. We don’t violate people’s rights."

"Not
officially
," said Hamilton. "But sometimes the rights of the individual are less important than the needs of the many. A full commitment to this war entails many sacrifices so that we can reach our key objectives going forward. With deliverables such as…."

The words washed over Tom and were meaningless. He’d once had a john like that: long, convoluted words lashed into a makeshift justification for illegal acts of lust.

Stomach churning, Tom edged back from the man he had once admired. It was true. No hidden meaning, no high thoughts. Just verbiage, or – as Marcel would say in his Saumurian accent —
Bullshit.

Tom nodded as if he had listened carefully to every word. “Of course. It just seems a shame.”

“Shame?” said Hamilton.

That we can’t do this again because you haven’t paid me,
thought Tom. But that was how it used to go. He was no longer working the street. “That we’ll lose his charisma,” said Tom. “Imagine if he came to us willingly… him standing on the podium next to you, renouncing his crown… praising the work of the Post Office.”

Hamilton glanced into the courtyard. His eyes became far away and Tom
knew
that the Postmaster General was calculating the political advantage he might gain. The word was that he and Field Marshal Williams had fallen out over Jasmine’s fate. Sooner or later there would be a showdown.

Edward made an entire circuit of his wooden post, switched to an odd crooked kind of strike and continued. Meanwhile Smith scowled and fidgeted, rubbing at his remaining eye which seemed to have some kind of infection.

At last, Hamilton said, “He
does
have a certain primitive magnetism. You have one week. Can you do it, Tom?”

No!
“Yes, of course,” said Tom. “Smith’s skills will not be necessary.”

Hamilton nodded. Without a word, he marched out of the room.

"Asshole," said Smith then followed after his political master.

Tom returned to the window.

Edward was looking up at him. "I thought you had grown tired of watching, Sir Tom!"

"I was in conference," said Tom. He felt his face flush, and cursed himself for being unprofessional. He doubted a medieval king would take kindly to being ogled by another man. "I do enjoy watching. You make it seem easy, but I bet it’s harder than it looks."

"Come down and I shall school you in the Knightly Art," said Edward. "I tire of solitary practice, and my guards have no taste for such manly play."

The sword filled Tom's vision. This was the opening he needed. But blunt or not, that was still a blade. He shuddered.

#

Holding his breath, Tom curled his cold fingers around the sword grip.

"Hands a trifle further apart," said Edward. "That’s it." He released the blade. Now Tom had the full weight of the weapon.

The memories flooded back. The sword clanged on the damp flagstones. Tom just stared at it, one hand to his face. His tan hid the hairline scars, but when he came close to blades, the old wounds itched as if only just healed.

Edward tilted his head. "You are unhappy with swords?"

Tom nodded. "Blades," he gasped, then remembered to breathe.

Edward said nothing, waited, concern in his blue eyes.

Tom forced himself to add, "I got sliced up when I was young."
Arrested on my hospital bed, dragged off to the Institute. Gangbanged by guards
.

Edward retrieved the weapon. "Swords have a wrong end and a right end. It is good to fear the former, but better yet, to master the latter."

Tom gave a half-smile and took hold of the sword. "Marcel more or less said the same to get me onto the pistol range."

"Marcel?" asked the young king. He let go.

This time Tom managed not to drop the sword. It was blunt after all.
Just a flattened metal bar, really
, he told himself over the hammering in his temples. "It’s much lighter than I expected," he said. "One kilo, perhaps?"

"Not as light as Skyblade."

Tom had read the briefing. "The royal sword. We've got leaflets and posters out. Somebody should have handed it in by now."

"Do you think I left it on the field?" Edward laughed. "Like King Tristram, I cast it high into the sky." He sobered. "Tell me about this Marcel."

Tom’s shoulders slumped. "I…"

Edward held up his hand. "No, on second thoughts, do not. I know that look. I will not trespass on your private grief." Edward
moved
and somehow took the sword back. "Now I shall teach you to step properly."

It took most of the afternoon to get the hang of the strange pivoting lunge which put the strength of his body behind the cut. As the sun set over the spired rooftops, Tom stooped to knead his own thigh muscles. "Ouch."

Edward’s eyes twinkled. "Almost adequate," he said. "On the morrow, I shall teach you the Roof Guard and the Strike of Wrath." He bowed, "If it please my noble captor?"

"You’re enjoying yourself," accused Tom.

Edward grinned. "If not a king, then I would, I think, find happiness as a fencing master."

"You don’t have to be a king."

Edward looked him in the eye. "Your pardon, Good Sir, but you would say that, would you not?"

Tom forced himself not to look away, then found he could not escape the youth’s gaze. He stood in the icy courtyard, sweat cooling on his body, transfixed. Something about Edward could not be refused, something which had found its way into his heart while the lesson distracted his brain.

"Enough!" said the young king. He gestured at the shotgun-toting Security Workers. "It grows too dark for swordplay, and my guards seem restless."

Tom stumbled after him. Marcel’s voice whispered in his ear;
Mourn by living.

 

CHAPTER TWO

 

Jasmine prised open her left eyelid and saw clouds. The world was no longer spinning, just gently rocking from side to side. She was propped up against the Flexiglass wall of the Control Car. Icy blue light flooded through the frost-coated windows. She shivered. "Why’s the heating off?"

Somebody pressed a canteen to her lips. "Drink," barked Sir Ranulph.

Jasmine flinched. She felt as if she’d been run over by tank. "What hit me?" She squinted up at the mountainous knight and grinned. "I guess you did."

Sir Ranulph just glowered at her from behind a veil of condensed breath. A blanket covered his broad shoulders like a cloak, but did not hide the oily bloodstains on his black velvet doublet.

They’d almost kissed in Ragnar’s Hall. And then she’d helped to kill his friends. No wonder he’d hacked a path to her – she’d have done the same for Marcel. "Why did you spare me?"

Sir Ranulph just looked at her.

Jasmine drew in her legs and discovered somebody had wrapped her in a blanket. Could she stand without vomiting? She shuffled her feet and rubbed her palms together. It was hard to think when she was so cold despite her fur-lined jacket. "Why am I separate from the other prisoners?"

"What prisoners?"

Jasmine struggled upright and mounted the first two steps out of the cockpit so she could see into the airship's Main Deck. Perhaps thirty mailed Northmen huddled together, wrapped in their own steam. There was no sign of the rest of the crew — unless you counted the patches of gore, and the severed hand lying forgotten against the aft bulkhead.

The airship twisted. Jasmine’s legs gave. She jumped clear of the steps and propped herself up on the back of the pilot’s chair and clutched the cold leather. "Is Maud alive?"

"Not of your doing," said Sir Ranulph.

Jasmine glanced at the barbarians. "I was just following orders."

"A common soldier’s plea," said the big knight.

Something stung her bruised eye. She rubbed at it and found tears. She tried to feel defiant, but her courage was built on tales of the man who now stood over her, condemning her with every word and gesture.

"It is I who should weep," said Sir Ranulph. "You murdered my blood brother, and near did the same for Lady Maud, even though you had…" He hesitated, as if trying to find the right word. "…lain with her."

Jasmine opened her mouth to blurt that she had warned him by bombing the keep first. But that would mean admitting to having her hand on the bomb release.

Broken glass crunched. Thorolf loomed over the lip of the Control Car. He leered at Jasmine then spoke angry words in his own language.

Jasmine shrank against the chair. The only weapon within reach was the greatsword hanging in a loop on Sir Ranulph’s hip. But she was in no state for a fight.

Sir Ranulph shook his head and snapped something in Northern.

More barbarians joined Thorolf in looking down at her, so that the Control Car felt like a dockside fight pit.

Sir Ranulph responded scornfully, then laughed.

Muttering, the barbarians backed away out of sight.

"Cheers," said Jasmine.

Sir Ranulph glowered. "Do not taint me with your thanks. You live because I suggested that you could pilot this vessel."

Sooner or later, Airship 02 would catch up. It was bigger, with a longer range. Instead of bombs, it carried a full complement of Air Marines. "No problem."

BOOK: Pyramid of Blood (Swords Versus Tanks Book 3)
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