All great books have conflict. And I can’t think of a better conflict than one that evolves from one of the main character’s family. Personally, family feuds get me every time especially stories that involve hard-to-please parents, jealous siblings or slap-worthy second cousins. These plot lines are just so relatable because for better or for worse we all have family. Of course you can distance yourself from them, but you can’t trade them in. Well, unless you were born in a test tube, then that’s an entirely different story altogether.
So as you’ve probably already guessed, this week’s theme on WHAT’S THE SCENARIO WEDNESDAY is FAMILY FEUD. Even though I love to read about the family you love to hate, I’ve only touched on the dynamic once. So for this week’s excerpt, I chose a climatic fight scene from my debut paranormal novel Charmed.
THEME: Family Feud
Book: Charmed, Ellora’s Cave Publishing 2007
Setting: Anglesey tower, a fortified moated gatehouse erected in the fourteenth century
Set-up: Tristan Smythe’s world has turned upside down. Someone has kidnapped his estranged wife, Chloe. But before he can rescue her, he’s confronted with a surprising challenge from his younger brother Simon who wants to take his place as the head of the vampire coven. Faced with a fight to the death, Tristan does the only thing he can do…he fights.
Genre: Vampire, Interracial Romance
Ellora’s Cave Publishing, 2007
All Rights Reserved
The faint roar of the crowd drifted to Tristan’s ears as they descended the stairs of Anglesey tower, a fortified moated gatehouse erected in the fourteenth century. Primarily built to protect the northern borders of Warwick territory, the gatehouse was a dismal shadow of the stronghold it once was, having fallen into shambles shortly after the peace treaty signed between the Warwick coven and the Hessian werewolves.
When they finally stopped just outside the heavy wooden doors, the crowd’s bloodlust was almost deafening. Tristan wasn’t surprised at their thirst for blood. Challenges always drew a large audience because vampires throughout the vampire nation, not just the Warwick coven, usually attended.
Unwilling to waste any more time, he pushed on the doors and entered the great hall. Upon seeing him, the multitude parted like the Red Sea, allowing him an unhindered path to the front of the assembly.
Horatio called the room to order several times but the unruly mob ignored him. He then beat his gavel angrily on the council bench in an effort to quiet them but it was still ineffectual. Tristan turned to the crowd and raised his arm as a call for silence. Instantly the crowd quieted down.
“Due to a violation of the vampire moral code, the council has deemed it necessary to find a possible replacement for the leader of the Warwick coven. Tonight we open the floor to any challengers who feel they are worthy to lead one of the oldest and most illustrious coven in the underworld.”
Tristan rolled his eyes impatiently. The old windbag liked to hear himself speak just for the sake of it. “Who comes forth to challenge the authority of our leader, Tristan Smythe?”
Tristan stood his ground and waited. For several drawn-out moments, no one stepped forth from the crowd. Then a lone voice split the silence, “I will challenge him!”
Tristan looked over the sea of people to see who his challenger was and to his utter surprise, a man was shouldering his way through the throng. However, it didn’t take too long for surprise to turn into hot molten anger as he suddenly realized that it was his younger brother Simon who had betrayed his confidence.
But why? They’d always been fairly close. In fact, for a long time, Tristan couldn’t take a step without Simon hanging on to his coattails and questioning his every move. Yet here he was contesting his right to rule.
“I will challenge him,” Simon repeated, coming to stand just to Tristan’s left. “I will challenge him for leadership of Warwick coven.”
The council conferred briefly then Horatio addressed Tristan. “What say you, Tristan? Do you accept your brother’s bid?”
Tristan ignored the council member’s question. Instead he turned to face his brother, his movement drawing Simon’s attention. Green eyes locked with blue as they faced off.
Thousands of questions raced through Tristan’s mind. Yet the one that stood in the forefront was why after all these centuries would his brother betray him, especially since they’d always been close. In fact Tristan trusted his brother with his life and had relied on that fact in many a battle. Therefore this new development, although anger-inducing, confused him more.
What did Simon have to gain from his deceit? He was his equal in everything. For, ever since they were lads, Tristan had shared everything with his younger sibling. Whatever he had, he made sure Simon had it as well. And he hadn’t deviated from that upon entering adulthood. For he’d made sure that Simon received the best appointments in his army. He had given him equal stake in the family business, resulting in a fortune that matched his own. For bloody sakes, he’d even shared pussy with him. That was until Chloe came along. In her case, blood wasn’t thicker than water.
Needing answers to his questions, Tristan broke the silence first. “Good God, man! Have you lost all common sense?”
A smirk marred Simon’s normally placid features. “My common sense is perfectly intact, brother. Plus, isn’t that the pot calling the kettle black since it was your lack of common sense that landed you in this predicament?”
Tristan grimaced in anger. “But why go through all of this? And why now, Simon?” Tristan asked quietly, loath to play along with Simon’s performance. “I’ve been fair with all my dealings with you. In fact, whatever I have, you have as well.”
“You were always so hardheaded, brother.” Simon sighed impatiently. “Can you not see that you have the one thing that I covet? The one thing that I have coveted above everything else in this world…I want what you’ve kept from me for over three hundred years…the respect and admiration of our people.”
“But you already have that, Simon. You’re my right-hand man. Everyone knows that the coven’s very existence cannot only be attributed to me but you as well.”
Simon shook his head slowly. “You cannot see through the forest for the trees, can you? Don’t you see that all of the honor and glory has always gone to you? And whatever is left over is thrown to me as if in afterthought. But today, brother, all of that will cease. Before this day is over, I will finally remove the thorn, which has pained my side for far too long. The irony of it all is that you were the one who practically handed me the means to be rid of you forever,” Simon chuckled.
Tristan’s brow knitted in confusion. “What are you talking about, Simon?”
“Why, I speak of a most valuable ‘pawn’ at my disposal,” Simon jeered, his voice whispering now. “In order to ensure my success this evening, I’ve acquired your wife as an inducement.”
Tristan tried in vain to rein in his anger as it washed over him like water breaking out of a broken dam, threatening to engulf him. Despite his inner turmoil, his façade remained veritably calm, therefore lulling his deceitful brother into a false security.
“It’s time for you to make a choice, Tristan. Your wife or the right to lead Warwick coven. You choose.”
By challenging him, his brother had betrayed his confidence. But now he’d also played a key role in Chloe’s kidnapping. Tristan could no more hold back his rage than one could hold back a hurricane.
“Your deceit has backfired, Simon!” Tristan growled, his hands practically itched now for the nearest weapon. “You will pay for this. Once I’m finished slicing you to bits, I will do the same to Yasmine.” Despite his better judgment, he advanced on his brother, who retreated several steps.
“Tristan!” Horatio’s booming voice filled the great hall, stopping both men in their tracks. “A challenge has been issued. Do you accept?”
“It would be my pleasure,” Tristan replied, his eyes never leaving his prey.
“As both of you know, the challenge is a time-honored tradition amongst vampires. It is a rite we take seriously for it unequivocally chooses the one who will lead us. Gentlemen, you know the rules of the challenge. On either side of the great hall is a stockpile of weapons you may use to weaken your opponent. But remember your opponent’s weapons are off-limits or you automatically forfeit the challenge. The first one to die loses.”
“Are you ready, brother?” Tristan asked, a wicked smile curving his lips.
“I’ve been ready for this day my entire life,” Simon snarled.
“Good because your life depends upon it.” Tristan spun on his heels and approached the arsenal at his disposal. His weapon of choice was a pair of medieval battle-axes. Taking them in both hands, he tossed them lightly into the air, testing their weight. Satisfied with his choice, he swung around and faced Simon, who stood ready with a broadsword clenched in his fist.
Tristan walked to the center of the room and then stopped, as did Simon. As was tradition, they bowed to one another.
Without further preamble, Simon made the first move. He raised the heavy sword above his head and slashed it downward, coming close to severing Tristan’s head from his shoulders. Tristan raised his ax in self-defense, effectively blocking Simon’s downward swing.
Using the other ax as leverage, Tristan then pushed Simon back. While his brother recovered, he swirled the axes around his body in a protective mode and advanced on him. Tristan’s movements were so lightning-quick that everyone in the hall grew silent with awe as the double axes disappeared into a continuous blur.
Simon stood still as well but instead of being impressed by Tristan’s skill in weaponry, he was waiting for an opening.
“Always the show off, aren’t you?” Simon sneered unimpressed.
“Well, I can’t make this look too easy,” Tristan drawled.
Thinking he had an opening, Simon extended his arm in an attempt to impale Tristan with the tip of his sword. But unlike Simon, Tristan still trained in the old ways and his skills were sharply honed. With a twist of his wrist, he deflected the sword from its intended target. As he brought his arm up, the sword caught in the space between the handle and the head of the ax. Tristan continued to arch his arm upward until the sword was snatched from Simon’s hand and was sent flying through the air.
Finding himself suddenly without a weapon, Simon made a move to retrieve it. However, Tristan sliced his ax through the air, effectively blocking his brother’s path.
Releasing a cry of rage, Simon spun on his heels and ran back to the table containing the rest of his arsenal. He returned with a mace attached to a long metal chain.
Tristan raised a questioning eyebrow. “Are you sure you know how to use that? Take care, that weapon doesn’t come with instructions. It can be more hazardous to its wielder than to the intended target.”
When Simon heard Tristan’s sarcastic remark, his face turned beet-red in embarrassment. “We all can’t be perfect at everything like you, brother. But in a game to the death one doesn’t have to be perfect, one just needs to win.” Simon raised the mace above his head and swung it around in a wide arc.
Once the weapon gained enough velocity, he loosened his grip on the chain and hurled the mace at Tristan’s head. Tristan was too slow in ducking and the spiked ball caught him on his ear. Dropping one of the battle-axes, he grabbed at his ear to help stem the pain. When he withdrew his hand, his fingers were covered with blood.
Tristan looked down at his fingers. No one had drawn his blood in over three hundred years. While he recovered from the shock, Simon readied himself for his next strike.
Simon yanked the mace back toward him, a triumphant grin playing on his lips. His plan was working! Tristan was so rattled by his betrayal he couldn’t think clearly. A veritable lame duck ready to go to slaughter. If he played his cards right, he would be the next leader of the Warwick coven!
Simon swung the mace over his head once again and then let it rip. This time the mace was aimed at Tristan’s weapon hand. Still unbelievably dead-on, the mace blasted against Tristan’s hand, knocking the ax from his grip.
Chuckling to himself, Simon watched Tristan grab his hand in pain. He felt like shouting his good luck to the rafters as his older brother retreated back toward his side of the room, still keeping a watchful eye on the deadly weapon whizzing over Simon’s head.
Simon released his weapon once again and the heavy metal ball arced through the air, heading with deadly accuracy toward Tristan. Hesitating only for a brief moment, he quickly moved out of its way. Instead of landing in his chest, the mace thudded heavily against the wooden table at Tristan’s back.
Undeterred, Simon quickly wrapped his hand around the chain in order to pull it back for another attack. However, when he yanked on the chain, the mace wouldn’t give. In the impact it had become embedded into the top of the wooden table.
Seizing the moment to his advantage, Tristan grabbed a ten-foot wooden pike. He raised his knee and broke it into two pieces.
Seeing Tristan armed once again, Simon released the chain and retreated to the opposite side of the hall with Tristan close at his heels.
Simon ran around the other side of the table, however, he had no chance to choose another weapon for Tristan hauled back his arm and hurled one of the pikes at him. The pike blasted through his right shoulder and propelled him to the back wall, pinning him. Tristan raised the other pike and hurled it into Simon’s opposite shoulder. He then stalked around the table and came toe to toe with him. He took a hold of each pike and twisted them farther into the wall behind Simon, making sure he could not escape.
“Call mercy!” Tristan barked.
“Never,” Simon choked. “You’re going to have to kill me!”
Tristan broke off a piece of the pike protruding out of Simon’s shoulder and placed it over his heart. “Stop trifling with me, Simon! Do not think I will not turn you into a pile of dust.” Simon pressed his lips together as Tristan pressed the piece of jagged wood against his brother’s chest.
“Say it!” Tristan bellowed. Both of their eyes met in a battle of wills then finally Simon dropped his head in defeat and his body slumped against the wall. “Mercy,” he whispered.
“What did you say?” Tristan asked. “I did not hear you.”
“I said mercy, damn you! You win, like always. You have always bested me! Haven’t you had enough of humiliating me? All my life I have lived in your shadow and it seems I will continue to be in that enviable position of never being quite good enough. Are you satisfied?”
Tristan stilled. For the first time in many long years, he saw life through his brother’s eyes. What he’d seen as brotherly love would definitely seem like preferential treatment to their kind, considering vampires were such a jaded species. One had to practically jump through hoops to earn a smidgen of respect from their kind. And unfortunately for Simon, whenever he tried to make a mark for himself, he always came up short against Tristan’s own exploits.
Tristan winced as he thought about how miserable a life Simon must have had, always being second best, especially when his older brother was an arrogant braggart like himself.
Filled with guilt, Tristan reached out and removed the pikes from his brother’s shoulders. Once they were removed, he held his hand out to Simon in truce…
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