I’m excited to have D.A. Adams with me today to talk about sword and sorcery. He’s one of the authors in the Thunder on the Battlefield anthology, and he just so happens to be in the same book I am, Sorcery, so you should get that volume right now because it’s the best. At any rate, he’s here to give his thoughts on the genre, so I’ll let him get to it!
The Lure of Sword and Sorcery
As I grew into a teenager, the sanitized fantasy books I’d loved just a year or two before became suspect as the falsehoods of innocence fell away. Through comic adaptations and Dungeons and Dragons, I discovered the works of Robert E. Howard and Fritz Leiber. These gritty and often bawdy works felt more authentic, more real now that I was no longer a “child.” I devoured every Conan and Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser book I could find. In my teens, the Hyborian Age was as real as history, and Lankhmar was as familiar as my hometown. So when James Tuck approached me about contributing to Thunder on the Battlefield, I tripped over myself to accept his invitation.
I’ve often considered The Brotherhood of Dwarves series to be a hybrid of Sword and Sorcery and High Fantasy. While there are many elements of the latter, such as the heroic protagonists and good versus evil motif, to me there are just as many elements of the former. The setting is the natural world, and most of the struggles of the protagonists are deeply personal in nature. The focus is more on the physical skills and personal ingenuity of each character, as opposed to any supernatural power they might possess. And while the series does not contain profanity or adult content, there is a dark and coarse realism to the story arc more consistent with Sword and Sorcery.
Across the Wilds, my contribution to the anthology, is a piece I’ve wanted to write since the inception of the series. It follows Crushaw on his escape from slavery as he crosses a vast desert alone, on foot, and unarmed. He must overcome tremendous difficulties, using only his mind, his will to survive, and his bare hands. I jokingly say that my piece contains neither swords nor sorcery, but in all sincerity, it does contain the elements of a powerful Sword and Sorcery tale: a flawed hero in a strange land facing overwhelming odds against powerful foes. The story is visceral, bloody, and crude, and it fits nicely into this anthology.
By midday, the temperature was already over a hundred, and sweat poured from his body as he struggled on the loose ground. He had drunk all his water, and his throat now burned with thirst. He had worked in the cane fields sixteen hours a day for as long as he could remember, but even that hadn’t prepared him for the heat of the wilds in mid-summer. Between his rubbery legs and parched throat, he wasn’t sure how much further he could walk, but as he stumbled over a dune, he spotted a grove of elderberry trees a few hundred yards to his right, so he turned that direction in hopes of finding more water and resting.
Reaching the closest tree, he collapsed to the sand and crawled into the shade. Above him, a bird darted into the air, its wings sudden and sharp in the quiet of the desert, but Crushaw barely jumped. He gasped for breath, his body growing cold despite the heat. On the plantation, the old slaves warned of heat stroke, and he had always prided himself on never succumbing to it during a day’s labor. As he lay there shivering in the elderberry shade, he understood why the orcs were scared of these lands, and ever so slowly, the reality that he might not make it across crept into his mind. He should’ve stolen more waterskins, but there was nothing he could do about that now. After several minutes in the shade, he caught his breath and cooled down enough that the chills subsided, so he pushed himself up to search for water.
Near the middle of the grove, a natural spring bubbled from the ground, forming a pool three feet across. Yellow grasses grew along the edge, swaying with the occasional puff of breeze. Near the puddle, a long rock jutted from the ground, unnaturally smooth and flat. He set his waterskin on the rock and bent towards the pool. As he knelt, small frogs hopped into the water, stirring muck that clouded the bottom. Peering closely for snakes, he dipped in his hands and splashed his face. In the heat, the water felt cold and sharp on his skin. Cupping his hands, he filled his mouth, swished the liquid around, and spat. The elves had taught him to do this before drinking because it quenched thirst faster. He repeated it twice more before finally cupping water into his mouth and drinking until his throat no longer felt dry. Then he filled his waterskin.
He moved back to the shade and sat against one of the trees, staring south to watch for any orcs pursuing him, but he knew they had long turned back for the plantation. They would assume the wilds had claimed him. He removed his shoes and cleaned the clumps of packed sand from them and his feet. Cooling in the shade, he figured he would be better off waiting until the sun sank lower before continuing, so he stretched out his legs and closed his eyes. Moments later, he drifted off to sleep still leaning against the tree with his shoes beside him.
He slept and didn’t dream, but something woke him.
His eyes popped open, and he looked around with a start. The sun hung low on the horizon, and all around was quiet. But something had roused him from the deep slumber. He peered south, scanning for orcs, but nothing was there save rolling waves of dunes. Slowly, he turned north, and at the water hole, just a few feet away, the rock had moved, revealing a monster the likes of which Crushaw had never seen.
It walked on four squat legs, standing nearly three feet high at the shoulder and stretching seven feet from snout to tail. Its back was covered with a long plate almost like a tortoise shell but flatter and jagged along the edges. Before, the creature had burrowed into the sand, leaving only the plate visible. Now, as the desert cooled, it drank from the pool, a long tongue flickering in and out of the water with rapid flashes. As it leaned down, its claws dug into the sand, leaving deep impressions. Crushaw glanced at his shoes, wishing he had put them back on before falling asleep, but he dared not move for them. When the creature finished drinking, it raised its snout and sniffed the air. It turned from the pool and faced him, its tail splashing into the water.
Their eyes met, and though he had known fear as a slave, Crushaw had never seen a wilder, fiercer set of eyes. Terror gripped him. The beast swished its tail, sloshing water onto the trees and grass, and crept forward at him. Crushaw leapt to his feet and sprinted from the grove, but the animal bounded after him, moving faster than he thought possible on those short legs. As it lunged, snapping at his feet with dagger-like teeth, he dove to his right and rolled in the sand. He came to his feet as it lurched around to face him. He’d only ever been in one fight, a minor tussle in the quarters with an older slave who’d stolen a piece of bread he’d been given by a guard. That fight had lasted mere seconds, ending when the old man had punched Crushaw in the sternum, knocking the wind from him. Now, staring at this beast that coiled its haunches to spring at him, he wasn’t sure what to do.
D. A. Adams is a novelist, a farmer, a professor of English, and in my estimation, a true gentleman. His breakout fantasy series, The Brotherhood of Dwarves, transcends genre and illuminates the human soul in all its flashes of glory and innumerable failings.
He is active on the Con circuit and has contributed writing to literary as well as fine art publications, and maintains his active blog, “The Ramblings of D. A. Adams”. He lives and works in East Tennessee, and is the proud father of two boys, Collin and Finn.
His ability as a storyteller breathes life into every character, and his craftsmanship as a writer makes these stories about relationships; human or otherwise.
This is SWORD AND SORCERY.
Edited by James R. Tuck, acclaimed author of the Deacon Chalk Novels, the Sword volume features tales from the following authors:
James R. Tuck
M. B. Weston
S. H. Roddey
Steven S. Long
D. A. Adams
Steven L. Shrewsbury