FREE Fantasy Story: DEMON DAZE – part 1

I’d like to introduce you to Dani Erickson, a normal teenage girl with a not-so-normal heritage. I’ll be posting Dani’s initial story, DEMON DAZE, in six installments to be posted on Mondays of every other week until the story is complete.  I hope you enjoy meeting Dani and I look forward to your comments.

Demon Daze
DEMON DAZE

by Deb Logan

 Fortune Teller…

A SHIVER OF ANTICIPATION raced along my spine as Allie and I ducked inside the fortune-teller’s tent. My parents didn’t approve of psychic nonsense, but they’d allowed me to come to the carnival with Allie’s family as a pre-birthday treat. The even bigger treat? Not a single one of my older brothers was tailing me. If the Erickson boys were at the carnival, they were enjoying their own night out, not watching over their baby sister.

Turning fourteen had its advantages!

The inside of the tent lived up to all my expectations. A thick Turkish rug covered the brittle, brown August grass and swags of colorful silk festooned the sidewalls and ceiling, ropes of twinkling LED lights camouflaged within the folds. A small table draped in blood-red velvet sat in the center of the small enclosure. A single intricately carved high-backed chair occupied the far side, while two folding chairs waited for us.

Allie glanced at me as if seeking reassurance. The corners of her lips curved in a timid smile and her eyes widened. “Are you sure we want to do this?”

I grabbed her hand and pulled her to the folding chairs. “This was your idea, remember? We’re here. We’re not backing out.” I plopped onto a chair and waited. Allie lit on the very edge of hers, muscles tensed for flight.

A figure disengaged from the draping silk and approached the carved chair.

“I am Madame Simone. Welcome to my den of enlightenment. This place is hallowed, serving as a threshold to the great beyond.”

The olive-skinned woman was swathed from head to toe in a rainbow of silk. Small golden discs dangled from her headdress, gracing her forehead and calling attention to dark, liquid eyes. She studied my best friend for a moment and then turned her attention to me.

“You have come at an auspicious moment,” she said, and lowered herself gracefully into the high-backed chair. Leaning forward, she placed long-fingered hands upon the velvet tablecloth. “Tell me what you seek.”

Allie uttered a nervous squeak and huddled back in her chair, moving as far from the fortune-teller as possible without jumping and running.

I glanced at Allie and then faced the psychic. “Aren’t you supposed to tell us what we need to know?” I don’t like people intimidating my friends.

“What you need to know,” the woman murmured, holding my gaze and refusing to allow my escape. “Are you sure you’re ready for that? Wouldn’t you rather I told you silly tidbits about boys and kisses and who to dance with at homecoming?”

I straightened my shoulders, but didn’t look away. Her sarcastic tone bugged me. Allie and I might be young, but we were paying for this woman’s time.

“Look, just do your thing, okay? We paid for a reading, so read.”

Madame Simone’s smile could’ve frozen Boulder Reservoir. “As you wish.” She inclined her head, breaking our eye-lock, and turned to Allie, “Your hand, my dear.”

Allie placed her right hand in Madame Simone’s left and shuddered slightly when the woman traced the lines in Allie’s palm with a perfectly manicured nail.

“I see a long life if you sever your relationship with dangerous friends,” the psychic said, spearing me with a pointed glance. “You will dance on the stage to the acclaim of millions. Beware the company of demons.”

Allie snatched her hand back the moment Madame Simone released it and cradled it to her chest.

The fortune-teller cocked an eyebrow at me and held out her hand.

Time slowed. My heart thumped wildly, but the air had thickened, making it hard to breathe. Something moved just beyond my peripheral vision, and a desperate desire to flee seized my soul.

And then the moment passed and everything snapped back to normal. I sat in a stuffy little tent with too many silk drapes and a middle-aged woman who looked at me expectantly.

“Sure. Whatever.” I placed my hand in hers…and a jolt like electricity convinced me I’d made a huge mistake. My hand jerked reflexively, but she held on tight and smiled an enigmatic little grin.

“As I suspected,” she murmured, drawing her index finger along my palm and studying the lines like they spelled minuscule words. “You are the seventh … the child of a seventh … and you stand at the cusp.”

She closed her eyes and held my hand open between both of hers. A sharp intake of breath and her eyes widened and sought mine. Fear glazed her eyes.

“Tomorrow a great burden will descend upon you. Have a care lest it crush you…and all who care for you.”

With that happy thought she released my hand, sprang from her chair and melted back into the shadows.

“That’s it?” I yelled after her. “Whatever happened to you’re going to meet a tall, dark, handsome stranger?”

Anger mixed with a heavy helping of fear and roiled in my stomach. I wanted to hit someone. Instead, I grabbed Allie’s hand and the two of us sprinted from the tent.

“What a load of …”

“Hush, Dani,” Allie said, glancing over her shoulder. “Let’s go find my folks.”

I huffed, but allowed my pretty little ballerina of a buddy to drag me into the throng of people wandering the midway. Alejandra Chavez had been my best friend since preschool. She was everything I’d ever wanted to be; everything my whole family still hoped I’d become. Dainty, graceful, feminine to the core, Allie was a lady, in all the best senses of the word. She played the piano with finesse and danced like a rose petal on a summer breeze. Of course, grace came more easily to her five-feet-two-inch frame than it did to my towering five-feet-ten-inches. At least, that’s how I consoled myself. Whatever my talents were, I’d yet to discover them. I just kind of bobbed along in Allie’s wake, never quite measuring up to her shining example.

She pulled to a stop when we spotted her parents tossing rings over bottles at a nearby booth. “Okay. Listen, we don’t want to upset Mom and Dad, so let’s pretend we never went in that psycho’s tent.”

I inhaled lungfuls of crisp night air, doing my best to calm my breathing and make my sprinting heart slow to a peaceful crawl. Alarmed parents would only ensure a quick trip home. Besides, there were still plenty of rides and games to explore that didn’t involve weird middle-aged women wrapped in silk.

“Gotcha.” I nodded. “Everything is peachy. We’re having a grand time.”

Allie stared at me, a small frown creasing her flawless brow. “Are you alright, Dani? She didn’t scare you, did she?”

“Of course not,” I scoffed, wishing my stomach agreed. “Tomorrow’s my birthday. What kind of great burden hits someone on her fourteenth birthday? I mean, it’s not like I’m turning sixteen and Dad’s gonna give me a car I could crash. Get real.”

Allie smiled a knowing little smile, one that said she saw right through my bravado. She patted my arm and said, “I knew you’d be okay with it. Let’s see if we can help Dad win that stuffed tiger for Mom.”

I grinned and we joined Mr. and Mrs. Chavez, but I had to force myself not to turn around and study the crowd. Someone was watching us. I could feel their focus … and my skin tingled in response.

*~*~*

Thanks for reading! Part 2 will be posted on 6/1/15.

Can’t wait to find out what happens? Demon Daze is available online:
Buy Now: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | Smashwords

 

 

New Release

I’m hijacking this week. Originally, Peter meant to post something about his progress, his kidneys, and the rest of the universe, but I thought you might be interested that Will Hahn’s final volume of Judgement’s Tale, Clash of Wills, is now available for sale as an eBook. The print book will follow soon, and the second print book bundle (containing volume 3&4) will come out by the end of the month.

About the Book:
As the heavenly portents align, a mystic portal to the Hopeward opens again, letting a few goodly souls enter the prison where a comrade was marooned and evil beyond measure has laid a trap. For the heroes, it is not enough to uncover danger—wit and skill can carry them to its presence, but resolve and sacrifice are needed to defeat it. If it can be defeated. The challenge is often to choose one wrong over another, to accept the consequences when only the one prize most dear can be saved.

Treaman and his adventuring party discover just how quickly fame and fortune evaporate, once back in the clutches of the Percentalion; three miserable refugees of that chaos-cursed land will die unless the star-gazing preacher Alaetar can beat back the monsters at their heels.

And Solemn Judgement, the Man in Grey, faces an undead thane of ancient times; he must decide whether the only friends he has ever found will live, or if the Lands will again suffer the curse of Despair when facing the… [i]Clash of Wills[/i]

You can get it on Amazon. Other retailers will follow.

Free Fantasy Story–A Singular Inheritance–Final Episode

This is the last episode of A Singular Inheritance.  Previous episodes are in the three preceeding posts on this site.

A Singular Inheritance

by Sue Santore

continued–part four

“It’s me,” Brina called to them, holding her hands in the air.  “Brina.”

To her dismay, the guards grabbed her roughly and hauled her onto the walkway so abruptly she stumbled.  Conall thrust his massive body between her and the nearest guard and lifted his lips in a dangerous snarl. The guard dropped her arms and backed away, holding his spear in a protective stance toward Conall.
Before he could plunge his spear into Conall, Brina said, “Would you slay Lord Kemble’s favorite hunter?”

The man hesitated and the watch leader came running out onto the walkway and barked a brief command at the guards. They sullenly backed away and gestured to Brina to proceed before them.

She took a few deep breaths to quiet her pounding heart, raised her head high, and walked regally up the log walkway into the crannog, ignoring the spears of the guards.  She would not be intimidated by these guards.  She would not be intimidated by the high druid.  She was needed here.  Why?  She still did not know.  She still could not FutureSee as well as Shylah.  Conall refused to walk onto the causeway until the guards followed Brina.  He trailed along behind them, his soft growls letting them know that he was watching them.

As Brina approached her family dwelling, Lord Kemble, came out and stood before the door, his arms folded across his chest, a stern frown on his face. As she came near, she could see her mother standing in the shadows behind her father.  Then the high druid came rushing out of his dwelling and swiftly approached them.
Before her father could open his mouth to scold her, the faint beating of drums echoed down the road from the west. Lord Kemble’s attention turned from Brina and he shouted instructions to his men.  More guards came running and men spilled out of doorways, holding spears and other weapons.  The drum beats grew louder and chanting voices floated over the water.  The armed men lined up along the protective log walls, at the ready.  As the voices grew nearer, the drums rolled once, twice, then a rhythm beat out.

As he listened to the drum message, Lord Kemble shouted, “My son.  My son returns.” With long strides, he started for the walkway.  Brina raced after him with Conall at her heels. That was Gavin’s personal drum message.  Gavin was home!  Her father’s first son, his favorite son, and her favorite brother.

In the excitement of the returning heir, Brina’s scolding and punishment were temporarily forgotten. Lord Kemble called for a celebration and feasting to begin that very night.  He drew his son into his arms and took him back to the family dwelling, while Gavin’s men scattered to visit their own families.  Conall thumped down outside the doorway of their dwelling and refused to be led off to be penned with the other dogs.

Inside their family quarters, Gavin’s eyes met Brina’s and he gave her a sweet smile.  She could see he had changed.  He had lost his restless, searching energy and had a calmness about him that soothed. Even Mother was glad to see Gavin returned to them and she gave rapid orders to the servants and slaves to prepare a special meal for their evening repast.

Forgotten for now, Brina moved to her small sleeping compartment only to meet her older sister, Bretta, coming from the compartment.

“You!” Bretta twitched her garments aside to keep them from brushing against Brina.  “Why have you returned? You will not take my place!”  She snarled the words at Brina.

“I don’t know what you mean,” Brina replied.  “You know I couldn’t take your place in our parent’s eyes.”

“I’m talking about the high druid.  You were a fool to run from him and stay away.  Now he wants me.”

“You’re going to be his apprentice?”  Brina sucked in her breath.  Even though Bretta hated her, she couldn’t wish that fate on her older sister.

“No, fool, I’m going to be his wife.”  Bretta tossed her head and smoothed down the cloth over her hips.  “I’ll be the most respected woman in the clan, higher than even Mother.”

Brina could only stare at her sister in disbelief, nausea building in her.  “No!” She burst out, “You mustn’t do that!”

“I knew you’d be jealous.  He wants me now,” Bretta said proudly.  “You lost your chance when you ran away.”

“Are you moonstruck?  I wouldn’t marry the high druid if he were the last man on this crannog.”  Brina could not believe her sister could be so blind to the aura that surrounded the druid.

“More fool, you.” Bretta lifted her chin and brushed by Brina.

Brina was filled with fear for her sister and regret that she would never listen to her reasons not to marry the high druid.  Not only did his presence make her skin crawl, but there were rumors about the high druid and women who disappeared in the night.  But surely, if the high druid was going through the bride ceremony, Bretta should be safe enough, as safe as she could be living with the evil entity that dwelled within this druid. Brina shuddered and entered the sleeping compartment

It was filled with Bretta’s personal things.  Where could she rest while staying with her family?  Would she be able to sleep with Bretta’s hateful presence next to her?  She sat on the sleeping furs and drew her knees up to her chin.  Resting her cheek on her knees, she closed her eyes and breathed slowly, calming herself. She remembered the unusual calmness emanating from Gavin.  She reached out with a thread of thought and sought Gavin’s presence.  She found him with her father.  Gavin was telling of his adventures.  She touched Gavin’s aura.  So peaceful, so contented.  Where had he found this?

She must have dozed off, with her early morning rising and long walk tiring her body to exhaustion.  She was awakened by Bretta rudely shaking her.  “Time to eat.”

Brina shook the sleep from her head and rose swiftly to her feet.  Without speaking, the sisters walked to the main room and took their places on the mats around the low table to partake in the family meal hastily prepared by their servants. Torches burned in their holders around the room to push away the coming of night. Brina shivered inside as she saw the high druid sitting opposite from her father.  Bretta sat next to him, preening and full of her own importance.  Brina felt his foul magic probing at her, trying to penetrate her mind, but her shield was firmly in place. Then she began to listen to Gavin’s conversation with their father.

It was all Colum Cille this and Colum Cille that.  Brina was delighted to hear more stories about this new druid.  Shylah’s stories were limited and all old ones.  Gavin had met the new holy man who followed the one God.  He had followed with him for many weeks and had many stories to tell.  A commoner’s only cow was dying.  Colum Cille restored it to health with one touch.  A monster beneath the waters of a lake was taking villagers until Colum Cille banished it with his words, “Think not to go further, nor touch the man. Quick! Go back!” and invoked the name of his God.  One of his followers was weeping over the death of his child when Colum Cille commanded the child to rise and he came back to life.  Gavin even reported he, with his own eyes, had seen Colum Cille walk across a lake without sinking below the water.

Brina found it really hard to believe one man could do all those magical things, but she was fascinated by Gavin’s stories.  Obviously, he believed them even as some around the table scoffed.  She ignored the unbelieving comments and enjoyed listening to her brother talk, until she caught a movement out of the corner of her eye and glanced toward the high druid.  The depth of hate in his eyes against her brother shocked Brina, but as she thought on it, she realized that this new type of druid Gavin was reporting about was a major threat to the high druid.  She had seen their druid do some powerful magic, but never had he raised one from the dead or walked on water.  When the high druid began to speak, she grew fearful for her brother.

The druid faced the end of the table.  “Lord Kemble, I see your son has been contaminated by his association with this man who worships one God.  We know our gods are many, and they have been good enough for us for all our lives and the lives of our fathers and their fathers.”  Then he turned to Gavin, “This man is false and worships a false god.  He has tricked you into believing he can do these magics.  No one can bring the dead back to life.”

“Colum Cille can and he did,” Gavin said firmly.  “I believe his God is real.”

“No!”  The druid shoved back his uneaten bowl of food.  “You are mistaken.  You must leave this man behind you and forget him.  I will perform a cleansing ceremony to purify you from these thoughts.  It will be held tomorrow.”  He turned back to Lord Kemble.  “You must delay the celebration and feasting until after your son is purified.  If he cannot be purified, he must be put to death.  Otherwise the gods will be angry with us at his blasphemy.”

A cold dread settled into Brina at the words of the druid and she looked quickly to her father.  What would his answer be?  Would he allow his beloved elder son to be put to death?  Why did she even wonder at his answer?  She knew he deferred to the druid in all religious matters.

A heavy frown creased the brow of Lord Kemble.  “Is there no other way?”

“If he is too besmirched to be purified, then the law is clear.  He must be put to death,” The Druid stated again.

His hatred seethed beneath the surface of his words and spell binding was underlaying his focus on Lord Kemble. Brina could feel the slimy tangles of his dark magic threading through the room, touching the family members around the table and branching out to the servants.  Was this how he kept control of their village and directed all their lives when he wished something to come to pass?  He had always repulsed her, but she had never been able to feel the workings of his dark magic before her month of working to hone her own power. The foul tangles slipped off of her shield and hovered before Gavin. In a split second she extended her shield to cover him and the foulness that filled the room could not touch Gavin.

Gavin gave a steady look to his father, then to the druid.  “I am not contaminated by Colum Cille.  I will not consent to your ceremony.”  He started to stand up.

“So be it.” The druid made a quick motion with his hand and Gavin fell back down on the floor, unmoving.  Brina cried out, “Gavin!”  Before she could move the druid made another motion and his guards at the door came forward.  They picked up the motionless Gavin and, under the direction of the druid, carried him out of the door. The druid followed.

Brina jumped to her feet and cried at her father. “How could you let the druid take Gavin! He has done no wrong!”

“How would you be able to judge after what you’ve done?” Bretta said. Her eyes were slitted and her mouth contorted. She snarled at Brina. “The druid always knows best. We must not anger the gods.”

“I have done nothing wrong,” Brina protested. “The druid is not always right.  He is a bad man!”

Gasps came from around the room.

“That will be enough!” Lord Kemble rose to his feet and towered over Brina. “You have much to answer for, running away and refusing to return with the high druid and his men.  Now you even question his authority. You will return to your sleeping quarters and stay there until I send for you.”

Brina stepped back.  “No, my lord, I won’t.”

More gasps.

“Ungrateful child,” muttered her mother as she placed her arm around Bretta’s shoulders. “At least I have one daughter who pleases me.”

The remark stabbed Brina’s heart, even though she knew she had never pleased her mother, no matter how hard she had tried, and she never would.

She turned, walked out of her family dwelling, and paced after the druid’s men who were carrying Gavin. Night had fallen and the torches set along the path only lit up a few feet on either side of them.  The tramping feet of her father’s guards followed her. She turned toward them and muttered a freezing charm. They stopped in their tracks, eyes wide with fear. Then Brina followed her brother’s limp body as the druid had him carried into his own dwelling.

She stopped just outside the dwelling and a chill went up her spine. The open doorway reeked of dark magic. Was she strong enough to face down the druid? What would the guards do if she did?  She had to try to save her brother. Taking a deep breath, she wrapped her shield tightly around herself and entered the druid’s dwelling.  She stopped just inside the door and searched the room for Gavin.  He was lying very still on a high altar under the collection of shrunken heads of the druid’s enemies.  The druid bent over him.

As she stood quietly in the doorway, the druid felt her presence and swiftly turned from Gavin’s body.  She felt his glee and hoped she had not stepped into a trap she could not escape from. He dismissed the guards and waited until they left the room before speaking. “Ah. My little reluctant bride. You return to me.”

“I will never be your bride.” Brina spoke in a low passionate voice. “Never!”

“Oh, too bad.  You wish to save your brother?” A smile full of malice broke over his face. “Then you must become my bride.”

“You have my sister.  Why do you need two brides?”  Brina fought hard to keep her voice from shaking.

He made a motion of dismissal.  “Britta is a warm body, but you, my sweet thing, are much more.  I have sensed your power for long while, but now I can taste the power flooding through you.”  He licked his lips and stalked closer to Brina. She trembled at his nearness. “If I lay with you, I can take that power and it will be mine.  Mine to use.”

Even as she trembled, Brina strengthened her shield and reached with her mind down, down, far under the water to touch the earth.  She drew strength and fed the glowing flames of power that warmed her magic.

“You will never have my power.”

“Then your brother must die.”

“I think not.”  Brina said as she pulled the clean earth power into herself until she could hold no more.  She was ready when the druid attacked.  He threw the same spell at her with which he had felled Gavin, with even more force. Her shield held firm and the hard-flung spell rebounded back at the druid.  He gasped and dropped to the floor.  His eyes glittered at her with anger, but he stayed motionless as Brina grabbed some woven grass rope and tied his hands and feet. She stuffed a cloth into his mouth, then she rushed to Gavin, and plunged her earth power into the spell holding him.  With a shudder, Gavin broke free of the binding and sat up. His face was white and he moved slowly.

“Quickly, Brother,” Brina urged him.  “He will recover soon.  We must get you away from here.”
She thrust her arms under Gavin’s shoulders and pulled him to his feet.  Gavin swayed, then he straightened and gave her his sweet smile.  “Thank you, my sister.”  Slowly they moved forward to the door of the dwelling.  “I need a drum.  I cannot leave my men here to the druid’s revenge.”

Brina glanced around the room and saw a small drum lying on a nearby table.  She touched the drum. Detecting no apparent evil, she snatched it up and handed it to Gavin. He began to beat out a staccato rhythm which boomed across the water.

As they moved through the doorway, the guards of the druid stepped forward, their spears raised. “Back!” Brina spoke with command in her voice.  The confused guards lowered their spears. “We are to leave now.  The druid does not wish to be bothered until he calls you.”

As the echoes of the drum beat died away, shouts and running feet were heard all around the crannog. Gavin’s men were responding to his emergency distress signal. As Brina and Gavin made their way to the causeway, they were soon surrounded by his men.  Lord Kemble still stood by the door to their family dwelling.  He lifted his hand to stay his own men, motioning for them to allow the group to leave.  As Brina and Gavin passed, she could see the pain in his face as his son walked away from him.

If only he stayed firm in his protection.  If only the druid did not recover until they were out of spear throwing distance.  If only they could reach the clearing with the sacred well before any possible pursuit overtook them.
It seemed a miracle, but they did make it safely out of the village and all the way to the Herb Woman’s clearing and the sacred well before the druid was able to free himself.  There Gavin and his men left Brina.  Gavin returned many times in the ensuing years.  Sometimes he even brought the Colum Cille with him, and the protection on the clearing was strengthened each time Colum Cille visited.

Brina remained in the clearing, tending to the pilgrims who returned to visit the sacred well, as well as those who sought her out for herbs. She continued to fight the evil influence of the druid. Her ability to See into the future grew as her power developed.  Years later, one vision came upon her as she sat beside the well, looking down into the clear water.  It seemed as though she fell and fell, as down, down many years.  She saw a young girl, dressed in strange clothes, holding the box of power that Shylah had given to herself, Brina, many years ago.  She watched as the strange girl learned to use the powers in the box. She shuddered as she learned what the young girl had to face with her new-learned powers. Then she fell back into her own self and realized that her legacy from Shylah  was only the beginning, that the fight against evil must continue. Brina pondered her vision. “I shall pass the box on to another generation, then it shall pass again and again.”

I hope you have enjoyed Brina’s story.  Thank you for reading.  To read the story of the young girl in Brina’s vision, see The Singular Gift on Amazon.

Judgement’s Tale Climax: “Clash of Wills” is Now Available

Created with Nokia RefocusEven when I knew him, I didn’t know his story.

Once I knew the story, I never dreamed I’d chronicle it.

Now I can hardly imagine doing anything else with my spare time (I know, a fantasy writer for sure if he thinks THAT exists). But now at the release of this fourth volume, the novel I originally envisioned in Judgement’s Tale will be before the readers. Rest? Heck no, that’s for the weary- I can’t wait for the engine to crank up again so I can move the world along.

Clash of Wills: It All Comes Together

It’s a little hard to discuss the book itself because so much has happened in the preceding volumes. Solemn Judgement has carefully studied a couple of problems in his newly-adopted home while staying at the Sages Guild of Conar. One involves a young knight who kneels at the foot of the Hopelord’s statue constantly, and the mortal LoHI_JT_CoW_webdanger Judgement stubbornly believes him to be in. His other puzzle involves a forbidden book, a mystic time-scrying mirror, the ancient sage it drove mad, and a threat to the entire Lands of Hope. Meanwhile, his tutor Natasha has sanctioned him from further study, her friend the actor Alendic spends his every moment teasing the youth, and the patient Elvish Sage Cedrith  can only guess the depths of Judgement’s ambition or the danger he’s courting. In this story, they band together to rescue a comrade and face an ancient foe beyond their worst imaginings.

Meanwhile the Woodsman Treaman has begun to unlock the secrets of navigating the cursed Percentalion and befriended the young dragon Hallah. But his adventuring party falls into a worse escapade than ever before, a series of calamities which leaves them by turns wounded, naked, and finally imprisoned with priceless treasure in the face of a hellstorm of Chaos.

LoH_kg_1_map northern lands

But is it Ever Really Over?

Yes, it’s all starting to heat up in the northern kingdoms of the Lands of Hope. The draft I wrote up several years ago, coming after nearly thirty years of observation and note-taking, Clash of Wills will be in front of you. And the tale is not done. I’m working hard on The Eye of Kog, in which we’ll see the final confrontation involving Judgement, Treaman, prince Gareth, the Chosen Wanderer Renan Altrindur, young Anteris the scribe and many more. Never fear, dear readers, I wouldn’t leave you hanging- for long! Look for more of this epic tale later this year.

And if you want to remain apprised of developments in my chronicling journey, sign up on my website and get a free e-book with two Tales of Hope.

interruption…

The last part of Sue Santore’s wonderful story will have to wait for next Monday, May 4th. The reason is the newest release in the Everville series by Roy Huff.

To promote the release Roy is running several promotions which are already going on or will start in the next few days.

After struggling over the last year through much hardship, Roy Huff recently made some lifestyle changes to improve his health and focus. He gave up alcohol and fast food, lost 25 pounds and finally finished book #4 in the Everville series.

Everville 4: The Fall of Brackenbone

Everville 4: The Fall of Brackenbone

In “Everville: The Fall of Brackenbone“, two very different worlds, Easton Falls University and the magical realm of Everville are in dire need of a hero. Owen Sage embarks on an epic journey of monumental proportions to save these worlds all while fighting to keep the world within himself intact. This quest is not for the faint of heart nor is it for the weak of mind—only the bravest will succeed.
Discovering the well-kept secret of The Fourth Pillar of Truth is only part of the feat. Owen will have to outwit the ever-powerful Governor Jahal and overcome countless other challenges along the way. Amongst all of the dragons, giants and grand chaos, will Owen’s acquired skills and wisdom combined be enough to save these two worlds or will peril be the ultimate fate of all?

Check out the series while you wait eagerly for the last part of Sue Santore’s story A Singular Inheritance.
You can find episode one here and episode two here.

Free Fantasy Story–A Singular Inheritance–Third episode

This is the third episode of Brina’s story, A Singular Inheritance.  Find episode one here and episode two here.  Or check the archives.  Episode one was two weeks ago.  Episode two was one week ago.

 

A Singular Inheritance

by Sue Santore

–episode three–

The tramping feet came into the clearing, closer, closer.  It was a group of her father’s men!   A voice called out, and Brina recognized it. It was the head guard for their druid.  As he spoke he came closer. “Woman, where is the daughter of Lord Kemble?”

“Who wishes to know?”

“The most important high druid requests her.”

Brina’s stomach clenched at that statement.  No, she wouldn’t be his bride.  She couldn’t. But what could Shylah do against the armed men?

“But she is not the daughter of the high druid,” Shylah replied to the guard.

“Lord Kemble follows the old paths and listens to the high druid. She is not his daughter, but she will be his bride. Give her to us.”  His gruff voice was low and menacing as he walked up close to Shylah.

Shylah did not budge from the doorway. “She is under my protection and the protection of this holy place.”

“You do so refuse the druid’s request?” The guard’s voice was now a snarl.

“I cover her with my own protection.”

“Foolish old woman, you seal your fate.”

Brina saw him make a swift movement.  She heard a wet thud and a small moan from Shylah. “Shylah!” she cried out and started toward the doorway. A voice sounded in her head. Stay! Don’t come out!  Brina froze in obedience as Shylah’s body slowly collapsed before her eyes and she crumpled onto the ground in front of her own doorstep. Don’t…come…out. Learn…much.  The voice in Brina’s head stilled and was gone. Grief flooded through Brina.

Just then another voice shouted. “No!  You fool!”

The voice sent shivers though her. It was the druid! He rushed out of the middle of the group of armed men. She had never known him to go so far from the village before. Conall’s growls grew more intense and her fingers tightened under the dog’s spiked collar. “Stay, Conall.”

The druid’s face was contorted with anger. “Idiot! Now her blood will seal the protection she placed on the girl!” He threw up his hand and a bright light flashed. The guard let out a single piercing scream and where the guard had stood was only a lump of blackened flesh wavering back and forth. Then the man-sized lump fell to the ground in front of Shylah.

The druid walked forward. He stopped before he reached the bodies and peered into the cabin interior. When he spoke again, this time he spoke directly to Brina. She could hear the subtle persuasion in the spelled voice he used. “Come out, Brina.  We’ve come to take you home. Your mother and father have been very worried.”

Brina twisted her mouth in a grimace.  She knew her mother hadn’t been worried.  She only cared about Bretta, her older sister. Her father? Maybe. Sometimes it seemed that he cared for her. Mostly he cared for Gavin and Lann, her brothers.

She didn’t answer. According to what Shylah had told her, as long as she stayed in the hut, she was safe. She was not going anywhere. I won’t forget, Shylah, Brina thought. The tears streamed down her cheeks as she took another look at Shylah’s crumpled body. Shylah, the only one who had loved her unconditionally. Brina moved away from the wall and sat down at the small table. She could not bear to look at Shylah’s body lying on the ground. Shylah had said that as long as she was within the dwelling she would be safe, but at what a price. She sat facing the door, unwilling to turn her back towards the druid. Shylah had told her that the druid could not control her if she came into her power apart from him and to study hard to learn how to use her power. That was just what she would do.

The druid stood a few paces away from the bodies on the ground, his spelled voice continued to try to persuade Brina to come out. Ignoring the pleas, then the commands, from the high druid. Brina opened the box and took out the book. The light from the one small window, covered with oiled cloth, was enough–with the door open. She forced away her sorrow and began to read. Magical words danced through her mind and helped keep the anguish she felt at bay. Then the anguish resolved into hard determination. The high druid had gone too far. Brina would not be used by him. Shylah would not die in vain.

Hours later, when the voices and noises outside had finally ceased, Brina looked up from the book. She could see no one in the clearing in the line of sight from the door.  Thick clouds had rolled in to cover the setting sun and the light in the dwelling was fading. Brina cut a slice of cheese and a slice of bread from the food left on the table. She handed the food to the dog who lay at her feet. He gulped it down.

Then she stood up, dreading what would come next. Not a sound came from outside. She paced to the door and looked into the clearing. Conall stayed by her side, still on alert. The men had disappeared, but how far had they gone?

She looked down and tears filled her eyes. Crumbled on the ground in front of the door was Shylah, her blood soaked into the dirt. The blackened body of the guard who killed her lay apart.

She couldn’t leave Shylah laying there, but she couldn’t leave the doorway. Not yet. There were sure to be some guards left hidden among the trees to watch her. Brina sank down onto the floor in line with the doorway. She wrapped her arms around her knees and rocked back and forth, keening a requiem for Shylah. Conall lowered himself to the floor beside his young mistress and rested his broad head on his forearms, ears alert. Brina sang over and over in a high mournful tone:

Ah, Shylah, mother of my heart,
Long I have loved you.
The leaves shake for your pain.
The ground drinks your blood and
Hears the cry of your soul.
The earth calls out against your murder.
Shylah, Shylah, Shylah.

Echoes of her voice came back to her from all directions and Brina felt that the forest lamented Shylah’s passing with her. Under the cover of the clouds, total darkness was fast approaching. Brina felt for her travel herb pouch. Did she dare use her charm to try to hide herself while she buried Shylah’s body? She closed her eyes with her herb pouch held tightly and said, “Eyes do not see me.  Ears do not hear me. I am not here.”  A dreadful premonition filled her as she neared the door, and she hesitated. Then she remembered the ring of invisibility.  She backtracked to the table, reached out for the box, opened it, and slipped on the ring.  Her body disappeared before her eyes.  She reached down and clutched Conall’s collar and the dog disappeared also.

She knelt down beside the dog and whispered to him.  “Bring in, Conall.  Bring in, boy.”  Then she rose and walked to the doorway with the dog following her lead.  With her whispered commands, the dog clasped his massive jaws on Shylah’s shoulder and pulled backwards.  Brina tugged at the body also, and together they slowly moved her mentor’s body into the dwelling.

Startled cries came from a nearby thicket.  Brina gave a bitter smile as she realized that the hiding soldiers thought Shylah’s body had started moving by itself, then disappeared. When the body was safely inside the dwelling, Brina went through the death ritual over Shylah. She could barely see the outline of the doorway now. The light was almost gone.

With her ring still on, she pulled on the bracelet and went to the back of the hut.  She leaned against the wall and began to slide through it. She grabbed the dog and Shylah’s arm. With Conall’s massive jaws assisting her she managed to pull Shylah through the wall and out into the darkness. The dog left her side to relieve himself then quickly returned. She felt his nose bump her side in the darkness.

“Dig,” she whispered into Conall’s ear. The dog began to dig. Under her direction, after a time, the hole was made large enough to place Shylah’s body into. She made a sign of release on Shylah’s forehead and began shoving the dirt back into the hole. She tamped the dirt down with her feet, then shook off the dust from her clothes. She was exhausted and famished. Why was she so tired?

She tugged at Conall’s collar and the dog slid back into the dwelling with her. As she gulped down her own slice of cheese and bread, she bitterly thought about the soldier guards in the woods and wondered what they would make of the new grave in the morning. Let them wonder. They could think Shylah buried herself for all Brina cared.  She stumbled onto the cot in the corner and fell fast asleep.

When she awoke the next morning, the blackened body of the former guard was gone.
Many days passed before the Druid gave up and left the clearing, taking his guards with him.  Because of the soldiers, the pilgrims on their rounds stopped coming to the sacred well in the clearing. They continued to stay away even after the soldiers left. The days were long and lonely for Brina even though she spent the daylight hours with Shylah’s gift to her, the precious box and its contents. When she used it, she felt closer to Shylah.
Brina read and practiced, read and practiced. She nibbled on the food left by Shylah, but gave much of it to Conall. She worried about the dog having to stay in the hut all day, so in the dark of the night, she let Conall out to exercise and forage for himself. He would be gone most of the night. Twice he brought back a rabbit to her. During the cover of the night Brina also emptied her slops and threw some grain into the chicken pen.  She searched for eggs under the sleeping chickens and each day found a few.

As the month of safety that Shylah had sacrificed to give her came slowly to an end, Brina thought she could face down the druid–maybe. Anyway, she felt she was needed to return for a brief time to her father’s crannog, for what reason she knew not, but she knew that her place here in this holy clearing would be waiting for her.

Very early on her final morning before returning to her clan, Brina brewed a tea of angelica root and holy thistle. She sprinkled drops in the corners and doorway of the dwelling to prevent evil forces from entering while she was gone. Then she poured half of what was left into Conall’s water bowl. He eagerly lapped it up while she drank the rest of the tea in preparation for her journey.

What could she do with the box of power to keep it safe?  She didn’t dare take it into the lair of the high druid, just in case she wasn’t strong enough to resist him.  Her gaze fell on the holy well at the edge of the clearing, close to her dwelling.  Maybe there?  She took a deep breath, said a prayer for protection, and stepped out the door in the light of day for the first time in a month.  No shout came from the thicket.  No rustle came from the undergrowth.

Brina walked across the short distance to the well and looked down into the stone circle.  The water had a gentle movement in the center where the spring, the source of the well water, bubbled up.  There was a niche between two large stones about two layers down.  Maybe she could wedge the box into the niche.  Brina bent over and stretched her arm down.  Yes, she could just reach the opening.  She took the box and pushed it into the cavity between the rocks. Then she touched the rocks and muttered an incantation from the book of power.  The rocks closed over the box and it disappeared.

Brina walked to the edge of the clearing and stopped, looking down at Conall.  “Crannog, Conall. Home.” His ears perked up and he started ahead of her, turning his head occasionally to make sure she was following. They cautiously made their way through the forest to the main road, meeting no one. The pilgrims still had not returned to visiting the shrine at the clearing in her new dwelling so the forest was silent of their sounds.

As Brina approached the road, she sank down into nearby shrubbery.  She had to cross the road and make her way down to her father’s crannog safely.  She listened carefully, but could hear nothing.  She watched Conall.  He was alert, but not on guard, so she eased her way out onto the road and sped down the road toward her ancestral home.  If she heard anyone, she would flee into the bushes and hide again.

The sun is smiling on me, Brian thought, as she neared the approach to the crannog without having to dash into the underbrush, not even once.  She stopped just out of sight and drew upon her inner self.  She spun a small shield to hide her magic from any seekers then went onward.   As she came in sight of the walkway, a shout came from the guard post and two guards came swiftly down the walkway, their spears at the ready.

“It’s me,” Brina called to them, holding her hands in the air.  “Brina.”

To her dismay, the guards grabbed her roughly and hauled her onto the walkway so abruptly she stumbled.  Conall thrust his massive body between her and the nearest guard and lifted his lips in a dangerous snarl. The guard dropped her arms and backed away, holding his spear in a protective stance toward Conall.

Before he could plunge his spear into Conall, Brina said, “Would you slay Lord Kemble’s favorite hunter?”

 

Come back next week for the conclusion of Brina’s story, A Singular Inheritance.

Free Fantasy Story–A Singular Inheritance–Continued

Last week we began Brina’s story.  As we continue, the raiders have just gone by.

A Singular Inheritance 

by Sue Santore 

–episode two–

Only when the soft tramping of the raiders faded into the distance, beyond the village, going on down The West Road, did Brina relax her vigil.  She crept out from the side trail and hurried further down The East Road.  She needed to get far enough from the village to stop until dawn.  There was no way she could find Shylah’s hut in the forest without daylight for her to search out the way.

The girl and the dog sped down the dark road, held in place only by the feel of the packed dirt underfoot.  After their quick steps ate up a safe distance, Brina headed off the road again. She pushed through the bushes, biting her lip against the stabs and scratches, until she stumbled into a tree trunk, then she stopped and slid down the rough bark to sit with her back against the tree.  The scratches on her hands and face stung, but she couldn’t bother with them now.  With Conall’s presence, she didn’t have to worry about wild animals. Soon her tired eyes could stay open no longer and she slipped into a troubled sleep. The dog laid down beside the girl. His ears twitched as he stayed on guard for his young mistress.

The lowing of cattle and the stamping of feet woke her with a start.  In minutes the raiders fled past. The fog was thinning and the first light was breaking over the horizon.  So, the raiders had been successful in carrying away some cattle from the next village.  She wondered how many lay dead with their blood soaking into the ground, away from their loved ones.  Did the raiders have enough men to take their dead home with them?

She stayed still, her arms clutched around her knees, not looking at the road for fear the men could feel someone watching.  They would be on edge anyway.  She didn’t need a reason for them to search for a watcher. Conall stood beside her, ready to attack, if need be.  At least the cattle would cover any trail she had left.  That would make it harder for the druid to send trackers after her.  Even the dogs would have a difficult time sniffing her trail with the raiders and cattle passing after her.

After the passing of the raiders, Brina stood up, looking around her to get her bearings.  There was a packed trail to Shylah’s hut, if she could but find it.  If she headed in that direction, surely she would hit the trail. It couldn’t be far.  She grabbed her travel herb pouch and clutched the safe-travel herbs.  Closing her eyes she sought out for direction.  A faint tugging pulled at her, a line weaving through the forest.

Brina dodged through the trees, avoiding hanging tree branches and gnarled roots sticking out of the ground, following the source of the tug.  Relief flooded her when her feet struck the trail. The trail wound through the forest for hours, it seemed. In the distance she heard the morning crowing of the cock and smiled. Shylah’s chickens were up. The sun was burning the lingering remains of the fog off when Brina finally entered the clearing. A small hut stood against the forest at the far edge of the clearing.  Near the dwelling carefully placed rocks surrounded and protected a bubbling spring, the holy well.  A massive oak tree, a cloutie tree, towered near the well.  Prayer rags were tied to many branches.  Here pilgrims drank the holy water for healing, made a prayer and tied a prayer rag on the tree.   As long as the rags remained on the tree, the prayers continued to rise to the Upper Realm.  Shylah said the new druid Colum Cille had drunk from the well, touching the water, and that now the water had healing powers.

As Brina crossed the clearing, the hut door opened and Shylah stepped out.  The older woman, stood, her arms crossed over her chest, watching Brina approach. As Brina drew near, she could see the frown on Shylah’s face. “Trouble follows at your back,” the herb woman stated.

“Oh!” Brina stopped.  “I don’t want to bring you trouble, but, Shylah, I had to get away. The high druid was insisting I become his bride.”  She wondered where she could go, if Shylah turned her away.  Silently she held out her the gift of bread and cheese.

“He is filled with the darkness of the evil one. You must never become his bride.  Then he would have power over you as your husband.  He would suck out your budding power and take it as his own.” Shylah closed her eyes briefly.  Brina could feel her thoughts, but she could not read them.   “Come,” said Shylah.  She took the food, turned abruptly, and re-entered the dwelling, leaving the door standing open.  She walked to a small table and laid the bread and cheese on it, then she moved further into the room, to the other side.

Brina followed, trailing her hand along Conall’s back as he trotted along side of her.  Her eyes strained to see in the dim light.  Gradually the room came into focus.  Shylah was kneeling beside a large, crudely made chest, reaching into it.  Brina walked closer.

Out of the large chest, Shylah lifted up a small box, intricately carved of wood. She hesitated with the box in her hands and looked up at Brina. The girl was strong enough and she had a good heart and she was also the only one possible left to pass the precious heritage on.  Shylah had to take the chance.  She stood, turned, and extended the box to Brina. “This is for you.”

Brina reached out to take the box. It felt warm between her fingers. She whispered, “What is it?” She felt no sense of foulness as she did when the High Druid did his magic, but the box felt like it was bursting with power. It also gave off a sense of welcome. She cradled it to her and touched the carvings, rubbing one finger around a three-part connected spiral, looping around and back again. Conall raised his massive head and sniffed at the box, licking her fingers against the wood. Reluctantly she handed the wooden box back to Shylah.

Shylah had watched her soberly, seeming to check her reaction.  When Brina pushed the box at her, she stepped back and shook her head. “No. It has accepted you. It belongs to you now and it can have only one owner at a time.  Before its owner dies, it must be passed on to the next caretaker. You also need this.” Shylah reached up to her neck and took off a silver chain with a strange silver metal object dangling from the end of it.

Curious, Brina touched the small object. “What is this?”

“It’s called a key. It fits into the box, like this, to open it.” Shylah demonstrated as she spoke.  “Here, you put the chain on, and never take it off. It’s yours now.”

A heavy dread filled Brina at her words and she shuddered as a premonition flashed before her of Shylah’s limp body lying at her feet.  “But, Shylah, you’re not old enough to die.”  Brina cried out in alarm.

Shylah’s blank face showed no emotion.  “What will be, will be and I see you will be the next herb lady of the holy well.”

Unaccustomed tears sprang into Brina’s eyes and she quickly brushed them away.   “No, I need you to teach me, and…”  Her voice faltered. “… I need you.”

Shylah’s face softened.  “Child, you will soon need no teacher.  And you will have another come to take my place in your heart.”  Then her face hardened. “Your village high druid senses your power and wants to use it himself.  Whatever you do, you must not put yourself under his power or give him this box. The box holds great power, but it can only be used by you, now, until you willingly pass it on to another.”

Brina threw her arms around Shylah, still holding onto the box. This woman was closer than her own mother, who had no time for her, preferring her older daughter.

The older woman hugged the girl, who was more than a daughter to her, then she drew back. What she saw ahead for herself was a short, difficult road. Would she be able to follow it?  She had too, for the sake of the girl.

“Whatever happens, Brina, you must be brave and stay strong.”

“I’ll try, Herb Mother.”

The rest of the morning was spent with the two women huddled together at the small table, Shylah talking rapidly, showing Brina the sparse contents of the box, explaining their uses.  “You may add to the box as you see fit after you learn more about your powers.”

Shylah pulled out a book from the box and said, “This is why I taught you to read Latin. This book reads in Latin, for now.  As more village lords turn to the new religion and their druids become priests, Latin is the written language all will use.  All you will need to learn is in here.”

Brina’s head swarmed like buzzing insects at all the power flowing from the box and its artifacts.  “Let’s try this.” Shylah placed the heavy, intricate bracelet on Brina’s arm and drew her to the wall of her hut.  “Lean against the wall and think about the air and sunshine outside, the grass and trees.”

So Brina did and was shocked to find herself outside the wall next to the hut.  She heard Conall whining inside the building. She pressed against the wall again and returned to find Shylah smiling at her. Conall licked her fingers.

“Very good,” Shylah said. Then she held out the ring.  “Take off the bracelet and try this.”

After Brina placed the ring on her finger, she no longer could see her hand that the ring was on, nor any of the rest of herself.  She was invisible. She gasped, “I am gone!”

Shylah chuckled. “You have much power within you.  Your village druid has sensed your power for weeks, even with my covering spell over you.”  Then a darkness crept over her face. “Come. We must hurry. The time runs fast.”

Brina placed the bracelet and ring back into the carved box. Shylah placed her hands on Brina’s shoulders.  “Promise me that you will study the book often and learn fast. Only after you master your power will you be free from your druid’s control. You will be safe in this dwelling for a time, but the food I have here won’t last you more than a moon cycle.”

A dreadful premonition crawled through Brina.  “What about you?  You will need food, too?”

“I won’t need food where I’m going.  I have Seen.”

“Shylah, Herb Mother, what have you Seen?”

“I will not tell you.  You will know when it comes.”

Brina threw herself at Shylah and embraced the older woman. “What will I do without you?”

“You must gain much knowledge within the moon cycle, enough knowledge to stand against your druid.  My protection won’t last beyond that.”

Then Conall growled.  They turned to look at the dog and saw the hair on his back bristling. He gazed past the women through the open door with his ears alert.  “What is it, Conall?” asked Brina. Shylah closed her eyes briefly and breathed a small prayer for strength.

Now they could both hear the sounds as they came closer, the tramping of many feet. “Hush, Conall, it’s just a group of pilgrims.”

“No, child,” said Shylah. “It is not pilgrims.” She moved toward the door. Brina moved right behind her, but Shylah held her hand to push her back. “Go over there and whatever happens, don’t come out that door. You won’t be protected if you come out of this dwelling.”

“But, Shylah.”  A cold dread was rising in Brina.  What was going to happen that Shylah was so afraid for her?

“Pledge it to me!” Shylah demanded as she looked into Brina’s eyes.

Brina drew a deep, shuttering breath, then answered. “Yes, I do so pledge it.”

Shylah walked across the room, stepped out the open doorway and stood on her doorstep. Brina was left waiting in the far side of the dwelling, lighted mostly by the open doorway.  She leaned her back against the wall, peering across the room and out the open door, trying to see past Shylah.  Fear chased around and around in her mind.  What was Shylah protecting her from?

To read the beginning to this story go to last weeks post.  To read the next episode, please come back next week.

Free Fantasy Story–A Singular Inheritance

Cover Prequel

I‘d like to share with you a fantasy short story, a prequel to my Singular series. I’m breaking the story up into four installments to be posted on Mondays of each week until the story is finished.  I do hope you enjoy it and I welcome comments.

The Singular Inheritance / The Beginnings

by Sue Santore

Thick fog wrapped around Brina like a damp blanket. Wispy fingers rose from the lake before floating upward to join their brethren in coating the night. Under the log walkway water softly lapped against the massive tree trunks sunk deeply into the water to support the village on the wooden log platforms which spread out over the water in all directions. Brina shivered even under her thick cloak, but she slowed down her feet anyway and flattened her body against the wooden posts which made up one crannog wall.  Their village was build entirely over the water with strong trees trunks, over which their high druid had said many prayers.  She shivered as she thought of him.

That same high druid wanted her to become his bride.  She shuddered. The high druid gave her chills when he passed by her.  His power rolled off him in foul waves.  When he looked at her, it was as if something else was looking through his eyes.  If his fingers accidentally touched hers when he guested at their table, she felt besmirched.  Her stomach churned whenever he was near.  To be his bride would mean to be in his constant company, to summit to him touching her as a man does a woman.  She couldn’t bear that, and Father was close to insisting she accept the offer. If only her brother, Gavin, was here.  Father might listen to him.

Brina came to herself with a startled jerk.  She had to make this escape work. Since she had put sleeping herbs into the dogs’ evening food, they should be all asleep.  She only needed to pass the guards without being caught.  A muttering of voices reached her from around the corner and she reached down to her hanging pocket and touched the pouch which contained her safe-travel herbs: comfrey, mugwort and wormwood, with a few willow leaves tucked in for good measure.  The packet of bread and cheese she carried clutched against her was a gift for Shylah, the Herb Woman.

The last time Brina had visited Shylah, she had come back to the village, retelling the herb woman’s stories of the new type of druid, a man who said he had power from the One God. Their village druid had been furious and had forbidden her to mention the man again or to visit Shylah.  At least the high druid did not know that Shylah had also been secretly teaching Brina the ways of the ley lines and how to gather their power. Her father, Lord Kemble, followed the old ways in his village.  She had never been inside the high druid’s home, but it was rumored that he decorated the inside of his home with the heads of their enemies, like the heathens of old.  Since the soul rested in the head, then he controlled their souls.  She shivered at the thought of souls in the hands of the high druid forever.  Never would they see The Upper Realms.

Even so, the word of their high druid was as important as Lord Kemble’s and his word was to be followed, so the high druid commands had to be followed.  Not only was she not allowed to leave their village, but he watched her all day long, his wise eyes knowing as she chafed under his seeing.  When he was busy, his vates watched her for him, even as her father pressed her to become his bride.  Much honor rested with the household who had a daughter bride of their high druid.

Even rolled into her sleeping mat, Brina felt them spying on her. Shylah. She would run away and take refuge with Shylah. Her power didn’t make Brina feel sick in her stomach area, and she knew so much more that Brina needed to learn, had to learn. Weeks of spying by the druids did not turn her docile, as the high druid had expected. Instead, Brina planned her escape carefully.

Days ago, the vates, the druid diviners, had predicted thick fog for tonight.  It was this type of night that the cattle stealers would be out, but all of Lord Kemble’s cattle were safely in the adjoining stockades over the water.  It was a sign of the Clan’s wealth that they could build crannogs for their cattle as well as their people.  The cattle were driven out across a log ramp during the day to forage for food, herded by the slaves assigned to that duty, then brought back to the lake stockade at night.  Guards were always on duty at night on the ramps, but rarely did the other clans bother their village.  They were well protected in the middle of the lake.  They always had plenty of food, and most of their boys grew up to become men.  Their clan was large enough to defend itself against the smaller clans, since they could not sneak in a surprise attack.  Crannogs were hard to build, but easy to defend.

The fog tonight was thick enough to cover her movements. If only she could sneak past the guards, she was sure she could hide in the trees until it was light enough to travel. The other guarded walkway led to their fields and farms. This walkway led to the main road and the forest beyond.

Edging slowly around the corner to the causeway, Brina breathed so softly that even she couldn’t hear her own sound.  Her padded leather walking boots made not a whisper.  As she moved closer to the guard post, she thought hard at the guards. “Eyes do not see me.  Ears do not hear me.  I am not here.”  As she clutched her pouch with the safe-travel herbs in one hand, the other hand trailed along the sturdy wall.  In a few feet the wall would end and the causeway would broaden.  Invaders could easily be pushed off into the water with staves and spears, should they dare to strike into the heart of the Clan.

The guard change approached.  Passwords spoken.  Now was the time.  While they were exchanging friendly insults on their manhood, Brina passed them by, a silent waif in the moist fog, just another ghost of the night.  Just as she was sure she was safe, she felt a hard nudge against her leg and a cold moistness against her hand.  A cry rose into Brina’s throat and she forced it back.  Her hand moved over the furred back to the leather collared neck with metal spikes.  It was Conall, her father’s favorite dog. Her favorite, too. He must have been with her father when she slipped the herbs into the dogs’ food.

Now what?  He was trained to keep intruders out, but maybe he would not understand to keep her in.    She knelt down and hugged the massive wolfhound, making the sign against his mouth for quiet. Conall licked her face, leaning against her legs, but made no sound, not a bark or a growl, not even a whimper.

There was no help for it.  She would have to take him with her.

With the dog padding silently beside her, Brina drifted across the causeway, like part of the thick fog, passing by the guards without detection.  When her feet touched the ground at the end of the log walk, she let out a deep breath and stopped to get her bearings.  Since she could not see, she closed her eyes and tipped her chin into the air.  In that still moment, she heard the wet fog dripping slowly from the leaves of the nearby trees.  Moving slowly, she turned toward the East.

Shylah lived alone in a woods clearing near a holy well.  She was a member of no tribe, but no one bothered her.  Her clearing was a sacred place of sanctuary.  Her small part of the forest was left strictly alone by all tribes, no raiding there.  If Brina could get to Shylah undetected, she would be safe.

Carefully, she moved onto the hard dirt of the East Road.  Her ears strained for any sounds of discovery from the village as she progressed farther along the road.  Her hand rested on the dog’s neck, just before his spiked collar.  Conall’s broad shoulders reached nearly to her waist.  She slid her hand up to his ears for a quick caress, only to find the still silent animal on alert, his ears standing up, his head testing the air, like he heard something. The thought ran through her mind that maybe she should get off the road.  Right about here was an animal trail, if she remembered right.

As her hands searched the bushes along the roadway for the small opening, a whisper of sound in the road ahead of her had her frantically probing for the animal trail.   She had to get off the road, now!  Finally, she found the small opening and wiggled through the brush, Conall following.  His hair bristled all along his back, but the silent sign still held him.  Brina huddled in a ball beneath the concealing underbrush, the dog standing guard in front of her.  Brina could now hear the soft tramp of many feet.  Raiders!  Surely they would not go to her village.  There was no chance of them getting across to their cattle.

She would have to hide until they went by.  Likely they were raiding the next village, which was not built as a crannog. Even though they were after cattle, they wouldn’t hesitate to capture her as a slave.  She had no illusions about what kind of life that would be.  Although Conall would tear the throat out of the first man who touched her, there were too many for him to slay all of them.  He would be killed and she captured if they heard the slightest noise from her.  Closing her eyes, she touched her safe-travel herb pouch and silently repeated her manta that had worked against the guards.  “Eyes do not see me.  Ears do not hear me.  I am not here.”

Come back next week to continue Brina’s story.

Leipzig Book Fair – 4 days of madness

If you ever come to Germany, try to do it while the Leipzig Book Fair is on and visit it. It always runs from a Thursday to a Sunday in March. I went a few years back and again this year. Either time, it was a whirl of impressions, people, and facts. I’ve never seen that many people in one place.

Leipzig Book Fair is the second big book fair in Germany, the biggest is in Frankfurt in autumn. This year 251,000 people visited the grounds, more than ever before. In contrast to Frankfurt which is mostly a fair for publishing insiders (authors, publishing houses, journalists, etc), Leipzig book fair is a place to meet readers (many of those book bloggers). My head is still swirling with faces and names.

CosplayerThe fair’s ground in Leipzig is quite interesting. The main hall looks like a giant greenhouse. It always houses the main bookshop, several catering services, and the entrances. With glass tunnels, it connects with 5 halls; Halls one, three, and five on the right hand side and halls two and four on the left. There’s also the congress center which can be reached through hall two. Also, the halls on either side are connected too. Naturally, the tunnels and connecting corridors are chokepoints when so many people try to walk from one hall to the next.

What I found most interesting was the sheer number of Cosplayers. Hall two, dedicated to comics, graphic novels, and merchandising, sees an ever growing influx of them every year. A lot of the really cool costumes are self made, and every year the best costume gets a price. It’s an amazing sight to see people of all ages (although mostly younger ones) walking or sitting around, posing to every camera in sight. I loved some of the costumes.

Walking through the halls to take in everything was possible on Thursday  and Friday, although Friday was already fuller than the day before. On Saturday, the halls and corridors were so packed, everyone moved at a snails pace. Sunday was slightly better. When I returned home on Sunday evening, I was bone tired. My feet hurt from walking and standing, my throat was sore from talking so much, and I felt parched despite drinking a lot of water. But as I soon found out, it had been worth it. My sales increased almost immediately. I am already thinking about going again next year. Maybe I’ll see you there. ;-)

Classics You’ve Never Read: Inside Story

It’s been awhile and I’m ashamed to say, my obligations to the Alleged Real World impelled me to return to this series. But any shot that goes in, as my basketball coach used to say. Especially when I took a shot that went in. Return with me now to take a closer look at a tale that you immediately know, but in all likelihood never turned a page of. What can we see as authors to help us in our craft?

Which tale? Of course it’s the classic that takes you deep inside, RL Stevenson’s seminal Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Why not before now? Because I have always felt such a deep reluctance around this tale. I know, in the end, it’s about all of us. It’s about me.

Sizing a Monster

LoES-J-H

Jason Flemyng, in both roles

Let me back up and start with the way the tale is usually portrayed nowadays in remakes. Mr. Hyde, most say, is the side of us we feel tempted to cut loose; and if even Dr. Jekyll couldn’t resist, we can’t expect better of Hollywood. So of course the result of drinking Jekyll’s potion is a misshapen, enormous leviathan, and it doesn’t get much bigger than the big-screen’s most recent version in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. It’s enormous fun in the most literal sense. We’ll come back to the movie but note for now the first, most important missed turning the remakes commit. They create a Hyde who’s bigger than Jekyll. In the story, RLS makes it quite clear that Hyde is smaller: wizened and a bit hunching, yes, but nothing near the upright, straight-backed good doctor he seems to have his hooks into. It’s a Christian point, if I may say so- the evil part that comes out of us is not only wicked, it’s puny. Lethal, yes, especially to our souls, but we shouldn’t indulge our ego to believe that it’s large in the scheme of things. We should simply be ashamed.

Hyde also appears to be younger than Jekyll, whereas in most of the remakes I’ve seen age is a non-factor. He’s got a spring in his step, you could say, a sign of the freedom he feels. Jekyll theorizes that since Hyde’s been so little used he hasn’t aged as far. It’s a window on the Victorian society where this tale is set and about which Stevenson was no doubt commenting. After all Jekyll feels The-Strange-Case-of-Dr-Jekyll-Mr-Hyde-image-682x1024buttoned-up and straitjacketed by his position and obligations to society. Contrary to the movies, he’s not originally trying to resolve the question of evil in man, or attempting to rid himself of it. He wants to sever his halves, enjoy two unimpeded lives; the sin is original to him. I can’t force my fingers to type much more down this line, I feel the cut too keenly. I’ll say this- every once in a while my lovely wife and I play the Powerball lottery (the prize is always scores of millions of dollars) and I love to dream of all the wonderful, charitable things I’d do with the money. Like I’d be the same person. Like I could be trusted.

But I think I know, there’s a reason I don’t get to win it.

It’s the Thought That Counts

While lots of features impressed me about the original story– no female characters, lots of news-by-letter and an interesting feature that the tale ends with a written flashback– I must say the thing that really jumped out was the simple, almost pristine horror Stevenson managed to conjure in the opening act J-H_coverof Hyde’s evil. The narrator, Jekyll’s good friend and lawyer Utterson, is apprised by a mutual acquaintance of this ugly fellow’s first outrage and begins to investigate. Can you guess what the crime must have been? Murder surely, that was my thought before I first read the book. In movies and television, Hyde is usually a city-wrecker, committing loud and brazen assaults, destroying stone cornices with his bare hands and strewing a wrack of police and prostitutes in his wake.

In the story itself? He’s trampled a little girl.

It took a moment for the image to settle in on me. Imagine being out for a walk (it was ALWAYS a foggy night, this is Victorian London after all). Hyde was seen by multiple witnesses, as a little girl runs from a side-street into his path. And. He. Just. Keeps. Walking. You show me any scene with guns or knives, and the opponent a grown-up however helpless, and I won’t flinch. But think– a child runs in your path a moment, and you don’t have the one drop of human sympathy required to turn, or even pause. You don’t shout or rebuke the child or her mother– those things would show you care. Hyde just stomps her underfoot like a weed, same pace, same stride, a machine. And when Utterson’s friend runs him down and the gathered folk scream their outrage, Hyde is slightly amused, as if puzzled what the fuss is all about.

You’d never do it. You’d rather lick a car battery than feel the body of a girl writhing under your shoes. From the story itself, Hyde seemed genuinely unaware of what had happened. Pay a hundred pounds to the girl’s family? Fine, no matter to me, let me get my checkbook… well, actually it’s my friend’s book. That single act has never ceased to haunt me. Can you imagine what strangulation of every good instinct would have to happen before you would act that way? Give me a Hyderampaging, angry, lustful beast– far better than this unruffled, self-interested golem. I think I hit on it when I realized,

Hyde is comfortable with himself.

And he’s the same man as the good doctor. Rather, he’s a smaller part of him.

Who Writes This Stuff?

Stevenson composed this tale in a fit of inspiration– the idea came to him in a nightmare, and he dashed out the first draft in just a few days, then burned his manuscript in a passion, and redrafted it in only three weeks. Perhaps you’ve had such an experience. For me, the aftermath is marked by a kind of delight that I usually feel when reading someone else’s work, liking it and wishing I had been

the author. Except that I am the author! Don’t shrink into false modesty on me, fellow writer, I wager you know this feeling. You wrote it so quickly, and it seems to need little polish. It just… came out of you when you weren’t there. So with Stevenson and Jekyll and Hyde.

“Louis came downstairs in a fever; read nearly half the book aloud; and then, while we were still gasping, he was away again, and busy writing. I doubt if the first draft took so long as three days.”
-Lloyd Osbourne, family friend

 Yet it’s the things he refuses to describe that get you about this tale. Hyde is ugly, but no one can say how. People want him dead, but can’t explain why. And folks who have long kept their noses out of other people’s business, given every chance to keep doing so, can’t stay away. Utterson HAS to investigate– the signature of his good friend on Hyde’s cheque, the will naming this monster Dr. Jekyll’s heir, hearsay and conjecture whose only virtue is how perfectly it aligns with his intuition. Step by tiny step, Utterson is drawn in– and we only see the horror second-hand, in letters and accounts, like a glance at the mirrored Medusa. Dr. Lanyon once saw Mr. Hyde transform, and is already dead when we read his letter– struck down by a sight not yet ours.

My life is shaken to its roots; sleep has left me; the deadliest terror sits by me at all hours of the day and night; and I feel that my days are numbered, and that I must die; and yet I shall die incredulous.

So, What’s In It, For Me?

As short as it is, the story spends its final third in post-mortem. Much like Invisible Man, the narrator spends a lot longer than you do trying to figure out what happened. Give that a shot with your current tale if you’re feeling brave!

But it fits uniquely well in this case, because when Utterson the dependable,

Careful how you look at yourself!

Careful how you look at yourself!

sane, reserved lawyer doesn’t want to look, you know the reader feels the same way. Not about Hyde, we can’t wait to watch this happen to somebody else. But sooner or later it comes back to that mirror. I think Perseus, when he dared to use it once at an angle, saw a part of himself.

Who is that, in there inside ourselves? Is it simply  “evil”? Is it the animal side, or anger and rage like you see with The Hulk? You can’t have more fun than to curl up with an hour of William Shatner gloriously over-acting as two sides of himself in “The Enemy Within”: here’s four quick minutes capturing all the epic-ness.

The writers of ST took a view of active/impulsive versus contemplative/rational. The good-guy Kirk is just the one that can get along– he won’t attack Yeoman Rand, he can hear you without getting angry, but he can’t decide what to do. The other guy is a beast, but he can make decisions– keeps outwitting the crew, covers his scars. He starts the fights, but only his calmer twin shows courage.

Anger-Danger

Remember? “Anger-Danger”. A show’s plot with one added letter. Genius

What if it’s like that? Is this a better deal than what Stevenson proposed? I always loved Bill Bixby’s version of The Incredible Hulk– he NEVER let go on purpose, spent his last ounce of energy trying to avoid all trouble while seeking his cure. And whenever “the beast within him” got out, he always seemed pointed in the direction of the bad guys. Was that just luck? I thought it was kind of karmic– David Banner reaped a small reward for so resolutely trying to avoid temptation, and I found it very uplifting.

Maybe an echo of this, in the cool turn of events from that FX-romp mentioned above, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. When Hyde is first captured by Quartermain and the gang, he’s classic evil/animal/ “id” and Jekyll is barely containing his desires (for women, mostly). In the movie, you can see Hyde in any mirror Jekyll passes. But when the Nautilus nearly sinks, it is Hyde who not only saves them all, but urges Jekyll to trust him with the attempt. I loved it, a real step toward superhero-dom for a truly interesting character. “Bravo, Edward”

Go As Far In as You Like, or Dare

You can maybe write autobiography and talk only about yourself; there might not be any more consequence and interest than the words themselves and the one person they tell the reader about. But in genre fiction, we can’t stop there. When we explore character, and inner conflict, we innately put on display our own philosophy of what people are like. We can use omniscient third person, or flashbacks, or magic spells or potions to peel back the layers, but we can’t try to pretend this is an exception. Our world, our rules, our consequences. Because if this isn’t about everyone, then who cares?

Bixby-HulkDo we believe there’s inner evil? Is life a long struggle spent holding back this animal side? Are heroes just furiously trying to distract everyone including themselves from lust, or greed, or the will to harm others? Did the villains ever really have a chance to be good; could one selfish choice have doomed them for all time? What do we as writers really believe about the human being?

In Jekyll’s posthumous confession, he cries foul on his own world as I think Stevenson did. Jekyll claims his worst fault was just “a certain gaity of disposition”, which his education and high position forbade him to indulge.

Hence it came about that I concealed my pleasures; and that when I reached years of reflection… I stood already committed to a profound duplicity of me… It was thus rather the exacting nature of my aspirations than any particular degradation in my faults, that made me what I was, and, with even a deeper trench than in the majority of men, severed in me those provinces of good and ill which divide and compound man’s dual nature.

Wait. He means, his good side was responsible for making him evil? We must be in Victorian times. But do the times make enough of a difference to excuse us? These are the questions we must answer. And it makes me pause a bit before I do, because while I’m busy dissecting the lives and habits of the heroes of the Lands StarTrek-Enemy-Withinof Hope, I can’t shake the notion that the speck in their eyes doesn’t quite measure up to the plank in mine. I wonder if it would even take the Powerball jackpot to let the ugly loose in me. Remember, the day before the evil queen ordered the huntsman to cut out Snow White’s heart, her mirror had told her she was the fairest in the land.

Of course, the young ladies I courted in my youth seemed to think my ugly was already loose. Maybe I could just blame them! Or maybe I’ll hold it together another few decades, see if I can work out some accommodation with that part of me that is willful and selfish, intemperate and mean. If you really want the Evil-Queen-mirrorcraziness, I’ll give it. I believe that writing about the Lands of Hope, of heroism and evil in that incredible world, is my version of polishing a mirror. I know somewhat of what’s inside me: I pray it’s still smaller and younger, and if I time my glances just right, I’ll learn how to behead the thing and bring it under my control. There are times you need it– strong, almost angry willpower to persevere, to resist criticism, to stay on track in your story or your life. By herself and still free, the Medusa would never have slain the Kraken. Jekyll never learned to let the goddess of wisdom keep it for him.

In Stevenson’s tale, the narrator Utterson kept away as far and as long as he could. Maybe I’ve already said too much on the subject.

“I am ashamed of my long tongue. Let us make a bargain never to refer to this again.” “With all my heart,” said the lawyer. “I shake hands on that”

For us writers, that won’t do. I have faith that God will help me to train this inner fire, so I can forge interesting tales and keep learning about the Lands, and myself. There’s something inside your heroes and your villains– inside you. Writing about it will bring it closer to the surface, where it’s dangerous (and also useful). You can’t let it out to run the show, because then it becomes what evil really is in the end. A habit.

But you can’t do nothing, and you can’t wait forever.

So take a shot. It might go in.

 

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