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25 April 2011

Ding-Ding! Opening Hook, Round 2

Your current Clash hostess is: Michelle Massaro

Two new authors climb into the ring this week to duke it out for Best Opening Hook. Will it be Excerpt A or Excerpt B? Only you have the power to decide. Read and then cast your ballot in the survey below. Make sure you rally your friends to come vote for their favorite too! Remember, your chances of winning one of these contending books increases with every link you share on facebook or twitter, comment you leave for our authors, and every new visitor you send our way (just give us a holler in the comments to alert us of your partnering efforts). 

(Also, remember you can still take our survey here)

In this corner, Excerpt A:
     Abigail’s tears were unneeded. Mourners enough had been hired by her mother’s husband, and their loud keening drowned out her grief. She risked a glance at Silas, who stood with an appropriately sorrowful expression in the corner. Her mother’s husband, but not her father. Her father was dead. Mother too. And this family would never be her own.
     She turned to the doorway, where Rebekka, Silas’s first wife, beckoned. Abigail darted one last look at the body laid out on the table, but her mother could offer her no protection now. She left the room, following Rebekka’s voice down the hall. “She is eight years old. Very strong–she gets that from her father. But beautiful, as her mother was.”
     Even at eight years old, Abigail recognized the jealousy in Rebekka’s tone at the mention of Mother’s beauty. She stepped into the room, felt her head go light when she saw the man within.
     A Roman soldier.
     Rebekka motioned her forward, and though she wanted to remain rooted in place, she dared not. One step, another, and she was under the Roman’s full perusal. Deafening silence pounded her until the man nodded and reached to the money purse on his belt. Her fingers clenched, her breath caught, her eyes ceased blinking. If possible, she would have stopped her heart from beating.
     Had it come to this? First her father’s death, then her mother’s, and now she was to be slave to a Roman dog?
     The man drew out several coins, but as he handed them to Rebekka, he offered Abigail a smile. And she knew. She knew that she would have more of a home with this Roman than with these people she could never call family.
     Something inside shifted, making her shoulders edge back. That place from where tears sprang went cool, ran dry. An image of a cracked, parched streambed flitted before her eyes. That was what she would be. Hard and empty. If her own people would sell her to their oppressors, then so be it. She would be a humble slave. No more whimsy, no more dreams.
     It was obviously what God intended.
And in this corner, Excerpt B:

     A thread-thin shaft of sunshine needled Alarik’s closed lids, but he’d not open them—it would hurt. His woolen tongue tasted of soured goat milk, and Thor’s own hammer beat against his temples. He hadn’t felt this bad since Björn’s wedding feast.
     Something dripped a slow rhythm against his lips, trickling off into his beard. He toyed with the idea of swiping it away, but that would require too much effort.
     A quiet rumble, low and throaty, moaned from afar. No, not far off. Near. And it carried a message of pain.
     He blinked open his eyes, then swallowed back the shock of light and spit out a string of curses.
     “Ja,” he answered, voice raw. His vision emerged like one who’d been in the depths of a fjord and risen from black, to gray, to stunning blue of day. He focused on a hand, palm open, relaxed, not more than an arm’s span above him. Deep red drops fell from a pallid fingertip and splattered onto his face.
     He jumped to his feet, warrior instincts alert, and reached for the knife at his side. Gone.
     His head jerked to the sound. The room reeled, and his stomach lurched. “Ragnar, by the gods, what has happened?”
     “Go.” His cousin lay ashen in color, tunic slashed and stained, breath light and quick. “You…will be…blamed.”
     “What blame? What has happened?”
     Ragnar turned his head, and Alarik followed his gaze to the object silently indicated. A body sprawled over a wooden keg, slaughtered and mutilated, seeping away the last of its lifeblood. A man’s body, with Alarik’s blade driven hilt-deep into the carnage.
     Einar…his brother.
     Alarik sank to his knees. How many times had he wished Einar dead? How long had he desired Einar’s first-born rights instead of the leftovers given a second son, and an illegitimate one at that?
     Alarik turned away and retched.
     Swiping his mouth with the back of his hand, he struggled to sort through mead-soaked thoughts. But recollection dangled just out of reach. Strong drink in a never-ending night, laughter and lies, swapping story for ever bigger story, and then…what?
     He must have left the long house with Ragnar and Einar, but how had he come to be here in a storage hut with his brother dead and cousin wounded? Who had committed this heinous act and why? Him? So many questions whirled, he raised both hands to his head to keep it from spinning off his shoulders.
     “Alarik, you must…run. You are innocent.”
     He staggered to his feet. “You know this? I cannot think. I do not know.” His voice lowered to a whisper. “I cannot remember.”
     “You…will be hunted. I will find who did this and come—”
     Alarmed at the strained grimace on his friend’s face, Alarik interrupted. “So be it. I will go to Jorvik and wait for your word. I’ll send Signy to tend you as I leave.”
     “God…go with you.”
     “Which one?”
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Item Reviewed: Ding-Ding! Opening Hook, Round 2 Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Michelle Massaro