Monthly Archives: April 2015

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.

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