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SIGNED -- Ragged Heroes (The Silent Champions #5)


When death came calling, the outcasts became the champions.

The Deadheads. A ragtag band of disgraced soldiers, killers saved from the gallows, and recruits too inept to hold the shield wall. They are the dregs of the Legion of Heroes.

Duvain and Endyn are no exception. A giant with a terrible secret and his weak, incapable brother, they are barely competent enough to march in a straight line and hold formation.

But when a humdrum posting far from the battle line sets them directly in the path of an unstoppable barbarian horde, the Deadheads are all that stands between the enemy and total annihilation.

Can the good-for-nothing soldiers prove themselves capable enough to turn the tide of battle and save innocent civilians?

Ragged Heroes is the fifth book in the riveting Silent Champions military fantasy series, a companion novel that fleshes out the war-torn world of Fehl.

For those who love heroic underdogs and snarky soldiers, dive into this gripping, action-packed story today!


(Each paperback is hand-signed and personalized by me. Swag included!)

elite warriors
special forces unit
band of brothers
secret identity
Roman Legion

SIGNED -- Ragged Heroes (The Silent Champions #5)

Look Inside

"Keeper's beard, boy, you're one hell of an overgrown bastard!" Corporal Rold, a large man with a heavy black beard, dark eyes, and craggy face, shouted up at Endyn. "I've never seen a man so ugly a whore'd kick him out of bed, but blacken my boots, if you ain't the exception to the rule."

Duvain winced. Endyn bore the tirade with his usual stoic silence, but Duvain recognized the hardening around his brother's mouth, his typical response to the mockery he always drew.

The corporal's abuse continued unabated. "I'd say you have a face only a mother could love, but I can still see traces of the Keeper-damned raptor's egg you crawled out of." Though he didn't even reach Endyn's chest—few men did—his volume more than made up for the size difference. "Quite frankly, I'm sick just imagining the draconic-looking slit that managed to spew you out."

Duvain shifted and coughed. The movement drew the corporal's attention. "And you're not much better, shite-for-brains! Here I thought the big one was the ugliest of the lot, yet you look like some afterbirth disgorged from a demon's taint."

Duvain managed to keep the smile from his face. Corporal Rold's words rolled off him—his father had been particularly creative with his insults after a few cups of agor. He'd learned to take the abuse; better he endure the stream of derision than letting Endyn, always an easy target, suffer under the shouts and stares of those who met him. Endyn's brutish exterior hid a kind, gentle soul.

"So you think you're good enough to join Onyx Battalion, eh?" Spittle flew from the corporal's mouth.

"No, sir!" Duvain responded at full volume, fighting the urge to wipe the moisture from his ear. "But we've been ordered to join the Ninth Company, and a good Legionnaire never questions orders." He thrust out the rolled up parchment that contained their instructions.

Corporal Rold looked at it as if at a leper's privates. With a disdainful expression, he took it, unrolled it, and scanned the contents with a disgusted grunt. "As if things weren't bad enough, now they're sending us the dreck of the army."

Duvain said nothing. He and Endyn had been at the bottom of their training company back in Voramis. They'd been lucky to be sent across the Frozen Sea to join the war against the Eirdkilrs at all.

"Bugger it!" Corporal Rold threw up his hands, rolling his eyes to the heavens. "At least they've given us a meat shield big enough to protect a few of us real Legionnaires from enemy arrows." He shot a glare at Endyn. "Not much good for much else, I wager."

Endyn's stiff posture and the hard set of his jaw spoke volumes. His right hand twitched at his side, the way it did when the dragonskin was driving him crazy. Duvain had no idea how his brother put up with the constant itching of the scaled, stiff, thickened patches of skin. The heavy mail shirts and breastplates had to be making the friction far worse. The dragonskin was one of the few things that could crack Endyn's stoicism.

"Get out of here!" The corporal gave a dismissive wave. "Owen here will show you where to stash your gear, then report back here for duty. Got it?"

"Yes, Corporal!" Endyn and Duvain shouted, giving their best salute.

With a snort and a muttered curse for "the fresh batch of incompetents", Rold strode off.

Private Owen, a sandy-haired Voramian with a weak chin and weaker shoulders made even narrower by his heavy armor, had stood behind the imposing corporal, listening to the tirade with a half-smile and a gleam in his grey eyes. Now, he stepped forward and extended a slim hand to Duvain. "Glad to meet you."

Duvain shook. He was surprised to find the private's hand strong and callused, despite its small size. "Duvain. This is my brother Endyn."

When Endyn shook, his huge hand—too large even on his massive frame—swallowed half of Owen's forearm. Owen tried hard not to show how much Endyn's height impressed him. Duvain had always been tall among the boys of Northfield, but Endyn stood at least head and shoulders above him, taller even than the huge warhorses roaming the camp. His brother had enormous shoulders and a barrel chest any blacksmith would envy, feet the size of a small coracle, and a patchy beard that concealed the outgrowths of skin that covered his oversized jaw. On the bad days, his dragonskin appeared above the neck of his gambeson. Thankfully, no trace of the grey rash-like growth was visible today.

"Don't mind the corporal," Owen told them. "He's a mean son of a bitch, no doubt about it, but a good one to have at your back in a fight. Stay out of his way, keep your hands out of his pack, and mind your shield, and he'll stick to just shouting at you."

Endyn and Duvain nodded. Endyn said nothing, but Duvain caught the tightness in his brother's expression. People tended to find an excuse to pick on Endyn, no matter what he did or didn't do. The fact that he stood nearly twice the height of the average man and, as Corporal Rold had taken pains to point out, had a face only his mother could love—had loved, with all her dearly departed heart—made him a target. He'd bear the abuse with his stoic silence until Duvain intervened. Intervention had earned him more than a few beatings, at least until Endyn realized his size gave him an advantage. None of the boys in Northfield had picked on either of them after Endyn waded into a few fights.

"This way," Owen said, nodding toward the muddy main avenue that cut through the heart of the encampment.

A city of tents, picket fences, and stables sprawled across the plains to the west of Icespire. The camp of the Legion of Heroes spread out over more acres than Duvain could count—roughly four thousand men were housed here at any given time, but the camp was sized for ten thousand soldiers. Plus the draft horses, oxen, carts, wagons, and teamsters that comprised the logistics trains delivering supplies around the conquered lands on the enormous island continent of Fehl.

Every Legion-issue canvas tent was identical: dun-colored square structures slightly taller than the average man, held up by ropes attached to iron stakes driven deep into the muddy ground. Despite the chaotic movement of men and animals in the camp, there was an orderliness that any architect would envy. The tents had all been erected in neat lines, with soldiers' and officers' tents surrounding the tents of their battalion commanders. As Owen explained, the soldiers were grouped by company and broken into platoons, with every eight to twelve-man squad occupying one of the huge tents.

The singular smell of "army camp" hung thick in the air. It was a distinct odor of dirt churned to muck by animal hooves and booted feet, sweaty men who bathed far too infrequently, and wet canvas and rope. Mud covered everything and everyone, painting the simple tents a dull, dusty grey. Men lounged in various states of undress, drank from pitchers and skins of every conceivable size and shape, and argued at full volume.

The Legion camp wasn't much to look at—certainly not the place of glory and heroism the recruiters had promised.

The city of Icespire, however, exceeded the fanciful descriptions of the men that had returned to Voramis. Duvain had spent his final hours on the boat watching the city drawing closer, the details of the city growing clearer.

Icespire derived its name from the single crystalline tower that rose from the highest point of the hill upon which the city sat. The tower reflected the blue of the ocean and the white of the fluffy clouds that clustered around the enormous structure. To Duvain, it seemed like a dagger of clear sapphire thrust by a giant's hand into the belly of the sky.

The city had grown up along the banks of the Frozen Sea, gradually expanding as more and more Einari—now called Princelanders—settled the land. Rivaling Voramis and Praamis back on the mainland, its denizens numbered well over four hundred thousand.

By comparison, the camp of the Legion of Heroes was small. Hard to believe that the army camp—a massive, sprawling thing that dominated the entire western slope of the hill—occupied enough farmland to raise crops for the entire village of Northfield.

Private Owen led them through the muddy lanes toward a tent that looked identical to the others around it. "This is us," he said, motioning for them to enter.

Duvain had to stoop to enter, but Endyn nearly bent double to fit through the opening. He remained hunched over—the peak of the tent barely cleared Duvain's head.

The slim private indicated the wooden two-level bunk bed in the front of the tent. "This'll be your bunk," he said. "Your packs get stowed beneath. The good news is that you won't have to worry about anyone filching your stuff. Sergeant Brash doesn't take kindly to that sort of thing. Last one who got caught with his hand in a comrade's pack…" He gave a wry grin. "Let's just say Brien had a mighty tough time scratching his behind for the next few weeks."

Duvain stashed his ruck—heavy after the long march from the dock—beneath the bunk and did the same with Endyn's.

He cast a glance up at his brother. "You good, Endyn?"

Endyn's eyes darted around the tent. Two pairs of bunk beds ran down each side of the tent. All were empty save for a grizzled man sitting on the bottom of the rearmost bunk. He paid them little heed—his focus was entirely on the leather wineskin in his hands.

Endyn nodded, his jaw clenched tight. Duvain knew his brother had an aversion to getting undressed with witnesses. He'd wait until he was alone.

Duvain removed the jar of unguent from his pack and set it on the top bunk, beneath the straw-stuffed pillow. "It's here if you need it."

"What's this, now?" A new voice greeted them. "Fresh meat, Owen?"

The newcomer that slunk into the tent was a shifty-eyed, rat-faced man with the wary, darting gaze of a career criminal. He walked on the balls of his feet, as if prepared to flee at a moment's notice. But the truly remarkable thing about him was his jewelry: a leather thong hanging around his neck, threaded with what looked like thick mushrooms. When Duvain got a closer look, he recoiled. They were human ears!

"Duvain and Endyn," Owen said. "Brothers, right?"

Duvain nodded.

Owen gestured. "This paragon of cleanliness is Weasel."

Weasel scowled. "Now, that ain't nice, Owen. We can't all go around smellin’ of lavender and lilies like you."

Owen gave Weasel a grin. "Sure, but at least I've got the good sense to wash before and after I visit the ladies down at the Soldier's Rest. Minstrel knows I don't want half the diseases you've got."

"Better a diseased prick than a useless one, says I." Weasel gave a suggestive thrust of his hips. "Oh right, yer savin’ yourself for the missus back home, ain'tcha?"

Owen's face hardened. "You know I am."

Weasel turned to Duvain and Endyn with a cruel grin. "Says he's got a wife back in Praamis waitin’ for him. Knowin’ the ladies like I do, I doubt very much she's doin’ any sort of waitin’. Too much coin to be made in the right trade, if you catch my drift."

Owen's face reddened, and he opened his mouth to retort.

"Though, I very much doubt any missus exists at all!" Weasel continued before Owen got a word out. "I don't know no one here who can verify that particular claim. A lady back in Praamis, hah!" He shook his head. "Ain't nobody waitin’ at home for any of us. It's why we came over here, innit?"

In Duvain and Endyn's case, Weasel wasn't far off. Their father and mother had died the year before—the Bloody Flux had claimed them, along with fully one third of their village of Northfield—leaving them with a barren tract of land they had no desire to farm. Dreams of a better life in the city of Voramis had called to them. Reality had been less kind. After a few weeks wasted in a fruitless search for work, with no coin to their name, they'd been wooed into the Legion of Heroes by a silver-tongued recruiter. The tales of glory and wealth held appeal—the promise of gold for their service and the spoils of war sold them on the idea. Six months of hard training, three weeks' march overland, another month on a ship, and a week of marching later, they had more than their fair share of sores and blisters. They hadn't seen gold or glory in all that time.

"Stop pissing with Owen, Weasel." The grizzled man at the back of the bunkhouse spoke for the first time. He threw the wineskin, now empty, aside and, standing, strode toward them. Grey showed at his temples and peppered his beard, and his face showed the signs of wear. A thick scar—either from sword or rope, Duvain didn't know—ran across his throat, hardening his voice to a harsh rasp. "You'll put him in a mood, and you know how our gruel will turn out when he's in a mood."

Owen's face brightened from a furious purple to a smug pink. "You never did guess what that mystery ingredient in yesterday's soup was, did you?"

Weasel turned an interesting shade of disgusted green. "If I find out you put somethin’ in my food, I'll gut you like—Captain, sir!" He trailed off as a man entered the tent, his mouth clamping shut as he straightened and saluted. Owen and the grizzled man did likewise, Endyn and Duvain following suit a moment too late.

The captain was a tall, handsome man with broad shoulders, long blond hair tied back in a tail, and a serious face. He had a confident gait, and he moved with shoulders thrown back, head held high, and hand never far from his sword. A man of action and war, with the poise and self-assurance that only came through years of experience. Yet for all his professionalism, his eyes held none of the arrogance Duvain had found in other officers.

"So this is what they send me?" He studied the brothers. Duvain felt himself shrinking before those piercing green eyes. "Not a lot to work with, from what I hear."

Duvain snapped a salute. "Captain, we'll fight hard and work harder, sir!"

"Indeed." The captain stroked his smooth-shaven chin with a strong hand that bore no scars—a sign he knew his way around a sword. "It's all I can ask for, I suppose."

He turned his attention from Duvain up to Endyn. The big man tensed, his spine going rigid. Duvain didn't need to see his expression to know Endyn had grown nervous, no doubt expecting something derogatory from the captain, as he'd received from so many others in the past.

The captain only nodded. "You'll be a good addition to the ranks, once you're fully trained." He turned to the grizzled man. "Corporal Awr, drills at first light. Put the big one in the middle rank."

"Hewing spear, sir?" the corporal asked. "Shieldbreaker'll be too heavy, but I reckon a pig-sticker'd do the trick."

"Aye." The captain's eyes narrowed. He addressed Endyn. "Strong, but not too quick, am I right?"

Endyn colored, but nodded.

"There's no shame in it, soldier. We've all got our strengths." He held out his hand. "I trust you've got a good grip?"

Endyn took the captain's hand and squeezed, his massive forearm cording.

"You'll do, soldier." The captain turned back to Awr. "Anchor the formation on him, with the brother—" He shot a questioning glance at Duvain, who nodded. "—on his right. He'll need someone looking out for him. Once he gets the hang of the shield wall, he'll be a bloody hurricane."

"Aye, Captain." Corporal Awr snapped off a salute. The grizzled man treated the captain with a deference that struck Duvain as odd, given his previously taciturn demeanor.

"At ease, Corporal." The captain turned to Duvain and Endyn. "Welcome to the Deadheads, soldiers." With a nod, he turned and strode from the barracks.

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