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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. ;-)

missign in acti… I mean NaNo

It seems like we lost at least one of our members to NaNoWriMo or some other disease like that. Thus, I’m jumping in — oh no, it’s my turn after all. Since I’m doing NaNo myself, I’m not entirely sure what to talk about. It seems most of the words I’m familiar with have drained into my current writing project. Writing 50,000 words in one moth is tedious if they have to make sense at the end. I’m sure many a secretary will be able to write much more than that, but keep in mind that most participants have a full time job on top of this.

So why then do we participate in this craziness? Why do some of us get so absorbed that they forget to feed their kids or shovel the dirt out of the house? It is because (pick your answer) we’re crazy, the community is incredibly supportive, we need to finish the current project and were missing the drive, everyone does it, it’s fun, of any other reason we can come up with to avoid laundry, cooking, cleaning and a 9-5 job. We also might be doing it for no apparent reason at all.

So, if this blog is a little bumpy during Novembers, you’ll know that at least some of us gave in to our yearly dose of craziness. Be gentle with us. After all, we’ll reward you with more releases as soon as the mess we made during NaNo is cleaned u.. I mean revised. Thanks for understanding.

How to Create Original Fantasy Creatures & Beings

Guest post by Vanessa Finaughty, author of the Wizard’s End Series available below!

ryokinThere are as many ways to create original fantasy creatures as there are creatures to be created. I still love my dragons and elves, and other familiar fantasy creatures, but it’s always good to add an original flair to your fantasy stories, something that has the potential to make readers sit back and think, wow, that’s cool!

There are no hard and fast rules to restrict your imagination, but here are some tips if you aren’t sure where to start:

Use existing creatures – fantasy or real life – and add fresh attributes. How much you alter the existing creature/being is entirely up to you. You could take the attributes of a lion or dragon, for example, and create a new physical appearance that looks nothing like the original creature/being. In my Legends of Origin sci-fi fantasy series, the magical ryokin’s physical appearance comes largely from the extinct sabre-tooth tiger – except the ryokin has golden fur with no stripes, and massive wings that enable it to fly. It’s also an intelligent, telepathic being despite its animal appearance. In the short story, Ereolon’s Day of Demons (part of the Sorcery & Subterfuge anthology), the main character is a winged elf – with ogre genes and the ability to bend others’ minds to his will.

Create something solely from your imagination. This can be difficult, but it’s definitely worth it if you do it right. You don’t need to add too many details either, if what you’re creating is a common animal that’s minor to your story. For example, I created a few animals for Wizard of Ends. There are gabbertok, which are dangerous night creatures with slanted yellow eyes that usually live in the woods. The females are protective over their young, but the males will eat their own offspring if the mother is not around. I also created ferocious hound monkeys, which have the bodies of hounds and torsos of monkeys, with sharp, curved teeth and deadly claws. They stand man height on all fours and travel in packs of ten. Each of these has a few more attributes, but nothing too detailed, because they are only there to add flavour to the story.

Visualise the creature or being you’re describing. It might sound okay as you write, but that doesn’t mean it won’t look ridiculous. Unless your story is humorous, you probably don’t want the visuals you give readers to make them laugh.

Eye abstract background

Consider how common fantasy creatures might evolve over a few million years and create the evolved version. You can use any creature/being from dragons and elves to ogres and unicorns, and everything in between.

Other Tips:

When creating your fantasy creature or being, consider some of the following:

* Is it weak or strong? If it’s weak, how does its species survive? If it’s strong, does it dominate the region and, if not, why?
* What temperament does it have?
* Does it have any special abilities?
* What colour are its eyes and skin?
* What texture is its skin?
* Does it have hair? If it has hair, what colour is it, and is it soft or coarse?
* Is its kind social or solitary?
* How does it reproduce? Eggs? Live birth? Other?
* Where does it usually make its home?
* What does it eat?
* What do its teeth look like?

Also, when naming your creature or being, try to keep the name simple and easy to say. There’s nothing worse than reading a fantasy story only to be constantly interrupted as you battle to ‘say’ the name in your mind each time you read it in the book.

I hope this post helps some fellow fantasy authors. Happy writing!

Thanks Vanessa, good advice to get started! Vanessa Finaughty’s new series, “The Wizard of Ends” is out this month and you can get them through the links provided here.

Wizard of Ends Book  I

WoE 1A powerful sorceress wants the Queen of Ends dead, hoping her demise will render the king unable to defend his crown. Only the wizard Lashlor Leaflin is in a position to protect Queen Narraki Dragonsbane, but he avoids using magic – at almost any cost. With creatures of darkness hunting the queen, however, he may be left with little choice but to call on the power he holds within.

Wizard of Ends Book II: Dark Creature

The Queen of Ends has been cursed into a rabid creature of darkness. Only Lashlor’s old flame, Rune Arcana, might be able to remove the curse. Lashlor believes he can find Rune in the WoE 2Mountains of Eclador. The only trouble is – Rune now despises him, and, in all of recorded history, no one has ever returned from these mountains. Fearing the Wizard of Ends will not be able to bring help, the king goes against Lashlor’s advice by enlisting the aid of other magic users.

 

Author biography

Vanessa Finaughty is an author of many genres who now focuses on fantasy and science fiction. She’s published 15 books, of which 6 are fantasy. Vanessa grew up in Cape Town, South Africa, and still lives there with her husband of fifteen years, her baby daughter and plenty of furry, four-legged ‘children’.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES         {This is Vanessa…}       

Vanessa Finaughty2{…and this is Vanessa on Fantasy}

{ANY QUESTIONS??}

Vanessa has always been passionate about books, and knew from a young age that she wanted to write them one day. She loves animals, coffee and the smell of wet grass, and hates liars, sweltering weather and long queues. Her interests include reading, photography, the supernatural, mythology, aliens and outer space, ancient history, life’s mysteries and martial arts, of which she has five years’ experience.

Links

Author blog
Goodreads
Twitter
Facebook
Smashwords
iBooks
Barnes & Noble

Publication dates

Wizard of Ends, Book 1: 9 October 2014
Wizard of Ends, Book 2: Dark Creature: 23 October 2014

 

Interview with L. Blankenship- Disciple V

As followers of the Independent Bookworm may know, we occasionally snare an unsuspecting indie author, luring them to the unspeakable horrors of our donjon for interrogation. It’s always made me a bit suspicious to see how willing some of them were. But I never expected a volunteer.

This time, we find a very no-nonsense victim in Louise Blankenship, already sitting in the chair and tapping her foot to get started. Worse yet, the subject was the theology of her world, from which the fifth book is now out! Talking about other people’s gods is always a bit off-putting, you know, takes away half my rap from the start. But I nerved myself up while heating the irons and decided to give it my best shot. So brace yourself for a cut above, you might say, as we explore the deities of the world of Disciple.

Q1: I gather your world is governed or influenced by two gods. Are they, in any way, um, a couple? Related, perhaps? Is this the eternal-war deal or did they both decide to go out to the same world at the Deity Speed-Date Night on Match.com?

A: Mother Love and Father Duty have one of those long-term marriages where they disagree a lot and seem to be at cross purposes but they respect each other far too much to actually fight. Things always seem to work out in the end. I don’t think that they met each other so much as the universe required both of them to exist.

In the world’s mythology, the Mother and Father are the human forms of the alpha ram and ewe that lead the “flock” of the world’s population. Their teachings are on how to be good flock members during one’s life.

This flock is overseen by the Shepherd, who is at various times Life and Death, Luck and Fate, the judger of all the sheep. He’s a mysterious higher power that isn’t exactly approachable, so people focus more on Mother Love and Father Duty.

Q2: Even the gods are married? Sheesh, you think if you lived in heaven you could avoid the “honey-do” lists… No polite way to put this one. How “real” are they? Do the people of your world see manifestations of their deities on a regular basis? Miracles, much? Or do your characters have to do more than see to believe? Are there many unbelievers in your world, or just a lot of salt-pillars standing around in odd places…

A: The saints are chosen by Mother Love and Father Duty to lead a particular portion (kingdom) of the Flock. Saints are very real and very powerful, no question about that, which tends to blur out the fact that the Mother and Father don’t seem to act overtly in the world. Not on their own, at least. The saints take care of that and can invoke the Mother and Father, or even the Shepherd, as needed.

There are other takes on the same mythology: in the kingdom of Caercoed, which is strongly matriarchal, it’s Mother Strength and Father Care. Same roles, just gender-switched.

And in Arcea, the Empress banned the Mother, Father, and Shepherd outright. The Empress has the armies and power to back up that sort of blasphemy, though.

Q3: You’ve made reference to miraculous magic by the “saints”. Can you describe a bit more about that? Are miracles well understood, reliable, easy? Or is something about them difficult, exhausting, iffy? About how many saints are there walking around at the time the story happens?

A: The saints do not talk much about how they do what they do — they’re all in direct competition with each other over scarce magical resources (the kir founts, where raw magic wells up out of the earth) and it’s dangerous for the enemy to know what you’re capable of. Keep your aces up your sleeve is the common wisdom.

Large-scale magic requires strength, focus, and practice, and in addition it’s dangerous because it draws attention. Few people are born with the innate talent for that level of kir-magery, and fewer survive the process of training and ascending to full sainthood.

Saint Qadeem thinks there might be a hundred saints in the world at any given time, but it’s difficult to say because firstly saints are immortal, and secondly they can hide among the general population easily — so long as they don’t do anything to attract attention.

Q4: The comedian Henny Youngman said it best: “I tried once to be an atheist, but I had to give it up. They have no holidays!” So what do folks in your world do to celebrate their faith? Is there a custom or day that really expresses what they believe?

A: The four big holidays of the year are the two Solstices and the two Equinoxes. At the Equinoxes there are smaller parties and everyone is encouraged to “balance” one’s accounts of debts owed. These can be debts of money or honor. If you need forgiveness for something, or you want to honor a loving relationship, this is the time to do it.

The Solstices are a chance to throw a big party and mark the turning of the season from one deity to the other. Winter and spring are Mother Love’s seasons: the flock should be supportive of each other to survive the weather and see to the spring planting. Summer and autumn are Father Duty’s seasons: time to serve the kingdom in wartime or public works projects, and then get the harvest in.

Traditionally, it’s bad luck to see moonrise on Winter Solstice without getting a kiss. That plays into the plot of Disciple, Part V… none of the main characters are getting kissed after what happened at the end of Part IV.

Thanks Louise, the world of Disciple sounds beautifully detailed and justified in matters of faith. We shall forbear to punish you further… just in case. Here’s the info you need to get started on the world of Disciple.

Disciple, Part V

Disciple-picKate faces winter with a broken heart: betrayed by one lover, the other lost to her.

Kiefan will not give up on the alliance his kingdom desperately needs — even though the Caer queen refuses to speak to him.

Anders, alone and despairing, faces the Empress’s seductive offers of power and privilege.

Each of them must carry the ongoing war in their own way, whether cold, alone, or backed into a corner. Each must patch together a broken heart as best they can. Duty will throw them together soon enough and they must be ready.

 

On sale now!

Amazon • B&N • Other retailers

 

Read Disciple, Part I for FREE

AmazonB&NOther retailers

 

Disciple, Part VI

ends the series early next year!

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Pre-Order functionality for Indies

For a long time, one of the advantages of traditional publishing was the ability to get pre-orders. The soon-to-be-published book would be visible in online shops with a possibility to order a copy which would then be shipped upon publication. Trad-Pubs then had considerable time to promote their upcoming release. The good thing is that all pre-orders would count as sales on the day of publication, making the book much more visible to potential readers. So far, Indies didn’t have many shops where they could garner pre-orders, and of those that did offer it, not many made much sense to use.

Now, amazon announced a pre-order option for Indies. If that will benefit authors and small publishers remains to be seen. One thing is for certain. We’ll have to get better at scheduling our releases. It doesn’t make much sense to offer a book for pre-order if it’s all proofed, has a cover and is ready to go. But it will be interesting for ongoing series where readers often want to know when the next volume will be available. Of course that means that if you set a publication date, you’ll have to stick with it. There’s nothing worse then an unplanned delay.

I, for one, am really curious to see how well pre-orders will do once I know how to use them well. How about you? If you’re a reader, are you the kind of person who uses pre-orders? If you’re a writer, will you try out this feature and what do you expect from it?

What Makes a Story Unique / Original?

I’ve been doing some research / study on originality in fiction. Remembering the conventional wisdom that there are only so many plots in the world, and all of them have been done many times…and by the masters, how do contemporary writers have a hope of writing original, unique works?

One persistent response is “voice”, that elusive element that marks your work as your own. Something that an individual writer often can’t recognize in their own work, but that others read and say, “Oh. Of course. That’s a Deb Logan story.”

But more than voice, where does originality reside? Is it in a gimmick? Some little detail that no one else has thought of that an author can build their plot (which has been done before…and by the masters) around?

I decided to look at three of my favorite series and see what insights I could gain. Each of these three has a distinct gimmick…but is that the answer to their uniqueness? Let’s see.

  1. Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer – Colfer built an entire series of eight middle grade fantasy novels around an imaginative bit of word play: leprechaun = LEP Recon (Lower Elements Police Reconnaissance). I love that … wish I’d thought of it first *lol* I heard Colfer speak once and he revealed another bit about why this series is so original: he based the main character, Artemis Fowl—who begins the series as a 12-year-old criminal mastermind—on his older brother, thereby pulling in Colfer’s own emotional history. It’s a delightful series with a great character arc leavened with lots of age-appropriate humor.
  1. Storm Front by Jim Butcher – The first book of Butcher’s Dresden Files series introduces us to Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden, a contemporary wizard living and working in Chicago. It’s the little touches that really make Harry unique – the fact that he advertises in the yellow pages under “W for Wizard”; his sidekick and helper, Bob, is a disembodied spirit who lives in a skull and loves romance novels; his cat, with the nondescript name of Mister; and eventually his dog, Mouse, a gentle giant with magic of his own – a Tibetan Temple dog (Foo dog). All through this series Butcher creates memorable and unique characters, giving them a life of their own while breaking traditional stereotypes. (His vampires are truly terrifying…and completely original.)
  1. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon – this series could be described as time-travel romance, but you’d be limiting its scope. Diana’s gimmick is that Claire Randall, a nurse who has just survived WWII, is sucked back in time through a circle of Scottish standing stones. Doesn’t sound all that original, but her characterization is amazing. Diana writes really LONG novels, and there are eight in this series (so far) all centering on the passionate love of ONE couple: Claire and Jamie. I don’t know many writers capable of keeping me interested in the life and love of a single couple over that many words, but she pulls it off. Plus, her main characters jump from being in their late 20’s in the first book, to nearing 50 in the 2nd, and the relationship remains just as intense.

Interesting. A good gimmick is great to start the ideas flowing (LEP-Recon; Wizard for hire; time-travel), but what makes the story original ultimately is the depth of characterization and the author’s own emotional history woven into those characters. All of these books have characters that I love as well as characters that I love to hate.

Each of these writers has created characters so real, that I feel like I know them … and not just the heroes. Even the secondary characters have personalities so distinct that I can recognize them from dialogue alone.

Which leads me to conclude that originality, uniqueness, memorability, isn’t a function of the gimmick or the plot as much as it is a by-product of characters so real they leap off the page and drag you into their lives, loves, and adventures.

What do you think? What makes your favorite books memorable for you?

The Old is New Again: Serialized Novels

Serialized novels have become a popular way to publish stories in the past few years. Some of the advantages of publishing as a serial include readers getting new parts of the story on a regular basis as it’s being written, instead of having to wait a long time for the whole novel to be finished; and authors can get feedback (and sometimes money) for their writing while they’re still working. But serial novels aren’t a new invention that happened on the internet.

In the 19th century, most novels in the U.S., Britain, and across Europe were actually published serially. Famous works like Charles Dickens’ The Pickwick Papers, Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers, and Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin were published with a new chapter every week or month in magazines and newspapers. When the story was complete, all of the parts would be collected in a single volume, which is how we read these novels today. But when they first appeared, readers would wait for the story in installments, which could be spread out over an entire year.

This method of publishing fell out of fashion with the invention of broadcast radio and television. Today, we think of episodes in a television series as multi-part stories, but written fiction comes out in books once every year or two. Only a handful of novels were published as serials during the 20th century.

But when the internet made it easy for anyone to publish their stories, serialized fiction made a come back. It started with amateur writers posting stories on their own websites, forums, and newsgroups. Then sites sprang up for writers to share free stories more easily, like Fanfiction.net. Now there are too many of these communities to name, where thousands of free stories are shared, talked about, and rated by readers and writers.

With widespread ebooks distribution, professional authors gained the ability to sell these serials online. Unlike printing where there are limitations on the length of stories that can be economically printed and distributed, digital works can easily be shorter (or longer) than the limited range of traditional novels. Now serialized novels, or series of connected novellas or episodes, are gaining popular readership in stores like Amazon and Smashwords.

After seeing how well serials work for other authors, I’m starting to experiment with serials. Last year, I posted a novel, Witch Hunt, on Wattpad for free at the rate of one chapter a day for NaNoWriMo. I did get some feedback as I wrote, but I found that most readers couldn’t keep up with that pace, and I’ve seen that most successful authors on Wattpad write at the rate of one or two chapters a week. I revised that novel and put it on sale—and surprisingly, even after I gave it away for free first, there are still readers willing to buy it!

miscreation-ep1Then this summer, Holly Lisle challenged writers on her How To Think Sideways site to write and publish a monthly serial as part of her How To Write A Series course. Following her advice, I’ve started a series of novellas using characters from my established Wyld Magic universe. The first episode, The Voyage of the Miscreation #1: “ The Voyage Begins,” was published last week. I’m excited to see how the series turns out as more episodes come out. Hopefully, I can engage readers who look forward to getting a piece of the story every month.

Have you ever read a serialized novel? How did you feel about having to wait for the next part of the story to come out? What rate do you think is good for new parts to come out?

Information about the history of serial novels from Wikipedia.

 

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