Genre: YA Fantasy
Word Count: WIP
To follow his brother into the pelotón and earn his beard as a fighting man is all seventeen-year-old Ramiro ever wanted. His mother can nag he belongs safely in the saint’s priesthood, but his father understands the military is ceremonial, a holdover from a more violent history of their city-state.
Until Ramiro's home is surrounded on all sides by the invading armies and siege machines of the Northerners.
Cut off from allies and outnumbered behind their walls, their only escape lies to the west in the acres and acres of swamp inhabited by the witches. The witches' mythic ability to hypnotize and control by voice may be the only equalizer. But the witches have no love for men, even unbearded ones. Ramiro's brother leads a small expedition to sway their hereditary enemies into becoming partners.
The saints abandon them and disaster strikes, leaving Ramiro alone with only the witch's nit of an apprentice to show for their mission. Ramiro is staggered by the loss of his beloved brother and dogged by duty. When the girl resists, he’s forced to drag her bound and gagged every step before his home succumbs to the armies. To win her over, they must speak, but the girl's voice could prove to be the last thing Ramiro hears.
Ramiro guided Sancha to the back of the waiting ranks of the pelotón, taking his position at its rear along the dusty road. Moisture slicked his palms inside his leather gloves, and his helmet wobbled as if it were several sizes too big, though the chin straps secured it. He sidestepped Sancha until she maneuvered into position. In his rightful place, he laid Sancha’s reins across his knee, signaling to the Grito de Guerre that he’d be using his legs to guide her, not the leather straps.
Alvito moved his mount alongside, pinning Ramiro between himself and Gomez. “Don’t look so pale,” Alvito said with a grin. “You’ll not earn your beard this day.” He stroked his own neatly sculpted black whiskers, adding a wink to cut the sting of his words. His beard was artwork, all straight lines and right angles, shaved to the edge of the jaw line with a square patch under his lower lip. His hair tended to curl, a fashion Alvito encouraged with musk-scented oil. The heavy aroma didn’t seem to detract women; Alvito never had less than one or two hanging on his arm.
Gomez gave Ramiro a playful push from the other side with a fist the size of a ham, enough to knock him off the saddle if Ramiro hadn’t locked his legs. Gomez’s beard was a study in opposites from Alvito. A nest of brambles to his chest, hair grew wherever it could sprout. “You’ll stay the bisoño until we tell you otherwise, kiddo.”