Excerpt from Fallen Land by Taylor Brown, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Fallen Land

by Taylor Brown

Fallen Land by Taylor Brown X
Fallen Land by Taylor Brown
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2016, 288 pages
    Paperback:
    Jan 2017, 288 pages

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Chapter 1

Pale light crept into the black stanchions of pine, the ashen ground, the red center of dying coals. The camped men rose, silent, and broke the bread of old pillage between blackened fingers. One of their number looked at his own. Soot and powder, ash and dirt. Neat crescents accrued underneath the nails, trim and black, like he'd tried to dig himself out of a hole in the ground. Or into one.

Some of the others chewed loudly, bread dry in dry mouths. No tins rattled. There was no coffee, not for some days. He always wanted to talk in this quiet of early morning, to speak something into the silence that assembled them into the crooked line of horsemen. No colors among the trees. No badges, no uniforms. He wanted to ask what peace might be gained if they hovered here longer in the mist, did not mount and ride. But they always did.

So he sprang up first. He shoved the last crust down his gullet and kicked old Swinney where his britches failed him, an inordinance of cloven white flesh.

"Goddamn katydid," said Swinney, second in command.

"Least I ain't a old ash-shitter."

"You be lucky to get this old, son. Right lucky this day and age."

The boy set his cap on bold.

"Lucky as you?"

Old Swinney hawked and spat a heavy clot of himself into the coals.

"Luckier."

They rode horses of all colors, all bloods. "Strays," they called them, tongue in cheek. Horses that offered themselves for the good of the country, under no lock and key. The quality of a man's mount was no measure of rank, a measure instead of luck and cunning and sometimes, oftentimes, cruelty.

The boy went to mount his own, a fly-bitten nag with a yellow-blond coat in some places, gray patches of hairless skin in others. She'd been a woman's horse once, most likely. The men used to joke about this. Then one of their favorites, an informal company jester, had been blown right from her back. The mare had stood there unmoved, flicking her ears, biting grass from the trampled soil. No one save the Colonel enjoyed a horse so steady. They left off joking.

The boy stuck one cracked boot into the stirrup, an ill-formed shape clanged from glowing iron by an idiot smithy. Or so the men had told him. They told him many such things, their faces fire-bitten and demonic over the cookfire, the embers circling them like burning flies. The boy believed them all. Never the facts, the names, the settings. But what they were getting at, this he believed. There was faith in their eyes, so black and silvered—like the move of steel in darkness.

Rays of dawn shot now through the black overhang of trees, spotting the ground with halos of warped design. The rest of the men slung themselves into their saddles, a cadre of stiff-jointed grunts, and some of them stepped their horses into the light unawares. The boy saw them go luminous among the black woods, specterlike. Like men elected to sainthood. Faces skull-gone, mouths hidden in the gnarled bush of their beards, showing only their teeth. The equipage of war hung by leather belts, pistols and knives and back-slung scatterguns of all gauges. This hardened miscellany jolted and clanked as their horses tapered into the long, irregular file of their occupation.

They rode the forest until the white face of the sun hung right above them and the insects clouded so thickly that men soiled their cheeks and foreheads with dirt or ash from the previous night's fire. The horses flicked the mosquitoes from their rumps with their tails, the skin of man and animal growing spattered with spots of blood. They came finally to the verge of a small green valley of sparse trees. There was a farmhouse down there, a barn. Out of habit they stopped for lunch, though there was little to drink and less to eat. They stopped within the cover of the trees so as not to be seen from the valley below.

Excerpted from Fallen Land by Taylor Brown. Copyright © 2016 by Taylor Brown. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Griffin. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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