Category Archives: Age – Adult

great stories for everybody

New Titles for March!

March has been an exciting month. First, at the very beginning of the month, Cat and I attended a workshop together on the beautiful Oregon Coast … our first in-person meeting! It was a delight to get to know her in the real world after all the experiences we’ve shared online 😀

Now, I’m excited to announce that my publisher, WDM Publishing, has released two new titles for March … one for each of my pen names 😀

First, Deb Logan gives us a new Faery adventure. I’m hoping you’ll enjoy this reunion with Claire and Roddy.

OF DRAGONS AND CENTAURS“Dragons”
by Debbie Mumford
Audience: Contemporary Fantasy | Young Adult | Short Story

Claire’s 15th birthday brings a huge surprise: she’s inherited her grandmother’s dragon! Imagine her surprise when the toy her grandmother carries with her everywhere turns out to be a real live dragon. One who looks like a toy when any uninitiated person is around. Life is about to get very interesting.

Buy Now: Amazon | Apple | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | Smashwords

*~*~*

Next, Debbie Mumford gives us a collection of her historical fiction. From the early 20th century to the Highlands of Scotland in the 1400s, we know you’ll enjoy this new edition!

TALES OF BYGONE DAYSBygone
by Debbie Mumford
Audience:
Historical Fiction | General Audience | Collection

From the struggle for women’s suffrage in the early 20th century (“Sisters in Suffrage”) to the Rocky Mountains of Colorado in the late 19th century (“Incident on the High Line”) to an account of the Cherokee Removal in the late 1830s (“The Trail Where We Cried”) and ending with a time-travel romance in 15th century Scotland (“Her Highland Laird”), this collection of three short stories and one novella will take you on a journey through history.

Buy Now: Amazon | Apple | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | Smashwords

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Reflections on an Epic

Kat has me so happy over on my own site I’ve seldom posted here in the past year or so, but today I’m thinking about a major milestone in a chronicling career, celebrated this week. It’s just another book, I suppose. But The Eye of Kog is that most fabulous of monstrous beasts, that legendary chimera so many seek and never find.

It’s an epic fantasy sequel.

Hooked from the Start… Make that Tangled

jt-full-amazon-webThink about two tales, two seemingly-separate plot lines. That’s what I thought I had, when I finally decided to chronicle the Lands of Hope back in 2008. As I was drawn into Solemn Judgement’s early days, and looked more closely at how he came to Hope and began to influence the history of the Lands, I figured there would be a novel-length tale about his deeds. Other things were happening, there’s always more. But my dull brain couldn’t see beyond the part that was “Judgement’s tale” at first.

It was just the ending that was killing me.

All’s Well, When it Ends with All

By the time Solemn does his best against the worst, I could no longer ignore the fact that there were these other guys around. A whole party of them, candidly. And even more frustrating, the people Judgement met on his journeys, when he walks a circuit of the northern Kingdoms in the second half of the tale, kept popping up and… well, doing things,  things that were important to understanding the stakes, dare I say the theme of the darn thing. Assuming it all belonged in another book somewhere, I kept trying to juggle some excuse to introduce them in the last few pages. Long entries in the Kingdom Chronicle– ahm, no, even the Children of Hope don’t read that thing before Anteris takes it up. I tried for the minimum– no soap, each element of summary and recap just pulled on threads that extended further and further back, into “Judgement’s tale”, but really not separate from it.Created with Nokia Refocus

I broke down at last, of course. Two novels, entwined, telling both stories at once (well even that’s a simplification, telling the whole story in order). Without Treaman, Gareth, Linya, Pol and the others, I would never be able to show the story of Solemn Judgement at all. Sleeves rolled up, shoulder to the wheel, nose to the grindstone… just try getting any work done in that position! But then I sat my butt down and started to type. All the threads into one tapestry: and I think the results have been worth it.

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Even today, every time I think to myself “that tale is told” I feel a kind of shock, as if I’ve gone over a hill on a rollercoaster. I re-read the whole thing on the polishes, and again on the edit, and each time I’ve had that wonderful feeling authors get, that strange sense that someone else must have written about your characters. {Oh yeah, that bit where two knights and two squires fight a pair of giants by the salt pool, that was pretty good stuff!} Why did that poor girl in Hollinsfen have to die? You’re telling me she’s a ghost now too? And how ironic, when the Chosen Wanderer is down and wounded, only a grey-clad gate-walker who’s tramped five hundred leagues can get past the knight’s fierce warhorse to help him, because Solemn knows Quester by name.

All here, woven together: the lost city of Oncario, travel through time, the curse of lycanthropy, miracles of restoration in the middle of the chaos-lands, a falling crimson star, warriors who can disappear at will, one king crowned and another going without; and naturally, a desperate race againVuth2.JPGst time and the odds. There’s a lot more than “Judgement’s tale” in The Eye of Kog: Solemn is still there, a bright grey thread that runs through the center. But now he’s in his proper place, sojourning in search of knowledge beyond the world that has not yet adopted him, a drumbeat to the symphony ushering in the Age of Adventure for the Lands of Hope.

With this book, most likely the longest and most complex chain of events that needs to be told about my world is on paper. Hardcover first, for anyone who likes to prop open a fire door after reading. And I dedicated this sequel to you, the readers, because with all my heart I believe that this, reading an epic, is an heroic feat in today’s world. I hope you will attempt it, and believe you will find the effort well rewarded. I know I have.

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Fencing Reputation Now Available in Paperback

The second novella in my series “Shards of Light” is now available as a physical product, right over here.

Shards of Light II - large webI love this plot, this character, this city. For pure joy and fulfillment, nothing in my life beats writing about the Lands of Hope, and there’s no place that’s more true than in Cryssigens, early 2002 ADR. If you read the first novella, The Ring and the Flag, you’ll have an idea what I’m talking about. But not to worry! Captain Justin from that tale starts out at almost the same time as the Stealthic Feldspar in this one, the tales stand alone and you could read them in either order.

Fencing Reputation is heroic fantasy with a flavor of detective noir. Feldspar is the man of a thousand disguises, but no one has seen his real face until today. Including himself. The only thing Feldspar knows for sure is that he won’t let his new, mundane persona take over his life, and he’ll never get involved in politics. Or become attached to any of his new neighbors. Wrong on all counts of course.

 

Some reviews of the e-book format:

An epic fantasy tale with the best qualities of an Errol Flynn swashbuckler. If you enjoy detail-rich settings and mysterious characters, this medieval tale will intrigue you. The anonymous main character’s many faces are fascinating, but none more so than his Feldspar personae, a stealthic of legendary proportions.- Barnes and Noble

I love the way the story mixed humorous scenes with grim ones.– Goodreads

Feldspar is a Stealthic, one of those reckless professional risk-takers like Bildon in Judgement’s Tale and the legendary Trekelny of Three Minutes to Midnight. Like them, when faced with difficult choices, he tie-breaks based on the course of greater risk. {Actually, who ever took a bigger risk than poor Meandar in The Plane of Dreams?} The added wrinkle for Feldspar is that he’s adopted incredible disguises in a city where everyone else is eager to display exactly who they are.

This is a crossover tale, so whichever order you read, the hero in the second book will catch glimpses of someone you’ve already met. And the adventure versus the conspiracy threatening the Southlands will continue in Shards of Light III, “Perilous Embraces” later this year.

I hope you enjoy Fencing Reputation, probably the most suspenseful, and also most humorous tale I have offered to date. Don’t forget to leave a review! I’m ordering a box right now, to use at the Con and other meet-ups this summer: it will be great to have three titles out in paper.

An Interview with Annie Lima

Q: Well, harumph. I can’t say I’m happy to be doing a “civilized” interview, after the fun I’ve had in Hahn_critic_1my author interview dungeon. Alas, all the cool stuff has been moved to my home blog now; here on IB, there are only soft, cushy chairs, curtains too thick to use for binding ropes and some completely dull, soft plastic tea cups. How am I going to get any information from this vict- ahm, guest? ::muttering:: It’s been so long since I’ve been polite during questioning.

::game-show face :: We welcome Annie Douglass Lima today to talk about her new release The Gladiator and the Guard. This is the second title in her Krillonian Chronicles series, set in a world where modern life coexists with permanent slavery.

Q: Let’s see, a tale of arena combat? You won’t need to work hard to hook this former history teacher! Of course, in the Roman Empire most gladiators had families, and some were quite young, though we hardly think of that. Where did you get the idea to combine these threads and have siblings face the pressures of the arena? It’s a terrific dilemma, very evocative.

Annie Douglass LimaA: Thank you! The idea grew out of the first book, in which I established the principles of slavery and how it works in the Krillonian Empire, a modern world very similar to our own. Of course slaves would have families, and of course they would be separated from them if they were sold away. I just had to decide how and why people would become gladiators (who are perceived by most of that world as athletic heroes but are really still just slaves). In The Gladiator and the Guard, the arena manager obtains new “glads” primarily by purchasing slaves who are already martial arts experts. He occasionally offers contracts to free athletes, but it’s rare for anyone to accept, since that involves payment in advance and then voluntarily entering into slavery in the arena. Plus, contracts are always for a lifetime (and glads’ lives are notoriously short). In the Krillonian Empire, enslavement (usually involving sale by auction) is the legal punishment for certain crimes, so he also keeps an eye on the online auction sites. When violent criminals become available – or anyone with combat experience or documented martial arts abilities runs afoul of the law – he is quick to place a bid.

Q: This is fabulous, a kind of lifetime slavery that’s not strictly racial. Could you elaborate on the kinds of crimes that can get you dumped into this fate? We seem to be talking about people not born to slavery, and that’s always tricky. {Of course, everyone would like to believe they’d heroically resist, and succeed- but then Stockholm Syndrome was discovered…}. But at any rate, Bensin and his sister didn’t do anything wrong, did they?

A: Bensin and his sister actually were born into slavery. Slavery is hereditary, but there are other ways to become a slave, too. Bensin’s parents were enslaved as kids, when their homeland of Tarnestra (originally an independent nation) became part of the Krillonian Empire. The people of Tarnestra fought valiantly to retain independence, and when their resistance was eventually crushed, tens of thousands of Tarnestrans were ripped from their homes and sold into slavery across the empire as a warning to anyone else who might be tempted to resist imperial progress.

Punishing certain crimes with enslavement (not only for the perpetrator but for his or her family) is the government’s way of motivating people to keep the law. Bensin’s friend Ricky, for example, was born free but enslaved at age ten along with his parents and brother, when his dad (who worked for a government agency) was caught embezzling money from his employer. Other crimes punishable by enslavement include murder, armed robbery, and attempting to illegally free slaves.

Q: These works lie very close to the more orthodox epic and heroic fantasy genres, so that leads me to two questions, both driven by envy. When you laid in the “world-building” of the Krillonian Empire, did you find it necessary to go back and pull some out, move some around, etc. or else lose energy in the plot? And do you think it was easier to describe a setting closer to the Alleged Real World (except for, you know, slavery and people fighting for amusement), or was it perhaps harder?

A: I did a lot of planning and prewriting before I started my first draft of the first book, so I didn’t end up having to make too many changes to the worldbuilding once I had begun. Occasionally I thought of new details that I was able to add in as I went along, but those were mostly pretty minor. For example, since slavery in the Krillonian Empire is not based on race, there had to be a specific way to identify slaves. I knew from the beginning that they wear steel collars that lock around their necks, providing their names and their owners’ contact information. Obviously that makes it much harder for slaves to escape, but there are certainly tools out there (in any world) that can cut through metal. In The Collar and the Cavvarach, there came a point when I realized I needed to establish a reason why anyone with bolt cutters couldn’t just go around freeing slaves. So I had a certain mechanic explain to an inquiring young slave that he had to have a special kind of license to own and use such tools in his car repair shop, and that involved security cameras through which the authorities could be watching him at any given moment.

Q: BTW, try to get a little episode called “Gamesters of Triskelion” on your viewing list. Captain Kirk in his beefcake-prime and slave-collars you’ll really like!

I’ll keep that in mind! As for your second question, it was both easier and harder in different ways to create a setting so close to the Alleged Real World. I have a fantasy series that takes place in a totally different world, and with that one, I was able to make all the rules. But it took an awful lot of worldbuilding to flesh everything out. With this series in the Krillonian Empire, I mainly just combined a couple of modern-day Earth cultures and left it at that, of course with the addition of slavery and a made-up martial art. But then there was the challenge of making sure everything I said was consistent with how things really work in our world. For example, I know very little about firearms or martial arts training or the types of mechanical problems an old pickup truck could encounter, but I needed to make those details realistic in the story. I should say, I knew very little about those topics. Dozens of hours of research later, I’m much more knowledgeable!

Q: I should probably have asked this earlier, but who do you think is the target audience for these stories, in terms of age but also anything else you can think of? And is that your “core” audience, I mean the one you always thought you’d be trying to reach?

A: These books are young adult fiction, meaning they’re geared toward teens and adults. I teach fifth grade, and while I know a few of my students have read and enjoyed The Collar and the Cavvarach, I have never suggested it to them, or to anyone else below middle school, as recommended reading (unlike my fantasy books). The subject matter is dark in places, and while there is no sex or language, I don’t really want my fifth graders pondering issues like why the characters would say slavery is worse for girls, for example. The first book contains just a little violence, and that’s mostly in controlled settings like tournaments, where participants fight with unsharpened blades. But the second book would definitely be rated PG-13 for violence, as well as for a few mentions of blood and gore.

I would say the target audience consists of any teens and adults who like an exciting adventure story. Anyone with an interest in martial arts, or perhaps in the gladiators of ancient Rome, would be especially interested. I never thought I would write a martial arts story; I never used to be particularly interested in martial arts myself, and it had never been my goal to reach readers who are. But then along came Bensin with a story that just had to be told, and martial arts were an inextricable part of it. The rest, as they say, is history.

Q: Can you give us a quick run-down on the gladiatorial combat, called cavvara shil, that happens in the tales? The weapon looks decently wicked, but the cover of Book Two also shows a disappointingly-protective looking helmet. You don’t mean to tell me fighters sometimes survive?

A: The martial art of cavvara shil is fought with a cavvarach (rhymes with “have a rack”), a weapon similar to a sword but with a steel hook protruding from partway down its top edge.  cavvarachI wanted cavvara shil to be a combination of two or three different fighting styles, involving elements of unarmed combat as well as the use of a weapon. It took a few false starts before I had a fighting style I liked. At first I just pictured using a sword, but I wanted something a little less stereotypical.  The cavvarach, with its hook, ended up being just right for what I had in mind. Combatants try to snag their opponent’s hook to tug the weapon out of the other person’s hand, which is one way to win a duel. (They can also knock it away with their own cavvarach, or kick it away.) Besides disarming an opponent, you can win by knocking them over and pinning their shoulders to the mat for five seconds. Oh, and you can block blows with your shil, which is like a narrow shield that barely covers one forearm.

In The Collar and the Cavvarach, 14-year-old Bensin competes in cavvara shil tournaments to earn prize money for his owner. Like everyone else there, he fights with an unsharpened blade and wears poncho-like padding to protect his torso and groin in the event of a missed parry. Worse injuries than bruises or the occasional bloody nose are rare at such events. In The Gladiator and the Guard, however, Bensin (now 18) is forced to be a gladiator, and he soon discovers that everything works differently in the arena. All blades are razor sharp, and protective padding doesn’t exist. Most duels are not intended to end in death (that would be a waste; gladiators are valuable), but accidents can and do happen. The helmet you see on the cover is actually for the guards who keep an eye on the combat from a safe distance to serve as referees and (when necessary) bring the injured in on stretchers at the end.

Q: Oh, the helmet is for the guards? OK, then I’m glad it’s been broken! I couldn’t let you go without a nod to your life in the Alleged Real World. You may be the guest who’s come the furthest of anyone to be here on the Independent Bookworm! Assuming of course that “here” is in the US or Europe… pardon me, my ethnocentrism is showing. But do tell us a bit about your world, the one you see when you turn away from the screen.

A: At the moment, when I turn away from my screen I see twenty-six empty desks and walls covered with colorful science project display boards. (My students are out at lunch recess right now.) I teach at Morrison Academy in the city of Taichung, Taiwan. It’s a wonderful job in a wonderful place! My husband and I have lived in Taiwan for nearly nine years now, and we love it here! I’ve enjoyed inserting elements of Taiwanese culture into these two books. For example, some characters chew betel nut, a mild narcotic sold legally in shops decorated with flashing colored lights. When money is awarded as a prize, it’s given in a red envelope. Cheap boxed meals available at “hole-in-the-wall” eateries are a common and convenient meal for laborers or anyone in a hurry or short on cash. New Year is the most important holiday of the year in both places. In Book 3 (which I hope to draft in the fall), much of the action will take place in a different city of the Krillonian Empire, one which I plan to pattern closely after Taichung.

Q: Cities, climate, customs– too much to ask about! Let’s just call this a pause, and perhaps have you back when Book 3 is ready. I’d love to ::cough-cough :: show you my ahm, interview chambers, you’d love the decor. Thanks very much Annie for a terrific peek at an interesting world. Make sure to leave us with your contact links and a blurb about your current release.

=====================================

I’m excited to announce that my young adult action and adventure novel, The Gladiator and the Guard, is now available for purchase! This is the second book in the Krillonian Chronicles, sequel to The Collar and the Cavvarach.

First Things First: a Little Information about Book 1: 

Bensin, a teenage slave and martial artist, is desperate to see his little sister freed. But only victory in the Krillonian Empire’s most prestigious tournament will allow him to secretly arrange for Ellie’s escape. Dangerous people are closing in on her, however, and Bensin is running out of time.  With his one hope fading quickly away, how can Bensin save Ellie from a life of slavery and abuse?

 What is the Collar for, and What is a Cavvarach?

The Collar and the Cavvarach

sword isolated on white background; Shutterstock ID 109466807

The story is set in a world very much like our own, with just a few major differences.  One is that slavery is legal there.  Slaves must wear metal collars that lock around their neck, making their enslaved status obvious to everyone.  Any slave attempting to escape faces the dilemma of how and where to illegally get their collar removed (a crime punishable by enslavement for the remover).

Another difference is the popularity of a martial art called cavvara shil.  It is fought with a cavvarach (rhymes with “have a rack”), a weapon similar to a sword but with a steel hook protruding from partway down its top edge.  Competitors can strike at each other with their feet as well as with the blades.  You win in one of two ways: disarming your opponent (hooking or knocking their cavvarach out of their hands) or pinning their shoulders to the mat for five seconds.

Click here to order The Collar and the Cavvarach from Amazon 

for $2.99 a discounted price of just 99 cents through April 28th!

 And now, The Gladiator and the Guard, with another awesome cover by the talented Jack Lin!

The Gladiator and the Guard.jpg

Bensin, a teenage slave and martial artist, is just one victory away from freedom. But after he is accused of a crime he didn’t commit, he is condemned to the violent life and early death of a gladiator. While his loved ones seek desperately for a way to rescue him, Bensin struggles to stay alive and forge an identity in an environment designed to strip it from him. When he infuriates the authorities with his choices, he knows he is running out of time. Can he stand against the cruelty of the arena system and seize his freedom before that system crushes him?

Click here to order The Gladiator and the Guard in Kindle format from Amazon

for $2.99 a discounted price of just 99 cents through April 28th!

 Click here to order The Gladiator and the Guard from Smashwords (for Nook or in other digital formats) 

for $2.99 a discounted price of just 99 cents through April 28th!

Annie Douglass Lima spent most of her childhood in Kenya and later graduated from Biola University in Southern California. She and her husband Floyd currently live in Taiwan, where she teaches fifth grade at Morrison Academy. She has been writing poetry, short stories, and novels since her childhood, and to date has published twelve books (two YA action and adventure novels, four fantasies, a puppet script, and five anthologies of her students’ poetry). Besides writing, her hobbies include reading (especially fantasy and science fiction), scrapbooking, and international travel.

Connect with the Author Online:

Email: AnnieDouglassLima@gmail.com

Blog: http://anniedouglasslima.blogspot.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AnnieDouglassLimaAuthor

Twitter: https://twitter.com/princeofalasia

Goodreads: http://bit.ly/ADLimaOnGoodreads

Amazon Author Page: http://bit.ly/AnnieDouglassLimaOnAmazon

Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/AnnieDouglassLima

LinkedIn: http://bit.ly/ADLimaOnLinkedIn

Google Plus: http://bit.ly/ADLimaOnGooglePlus

Now, enter to win an Amazon gift card or a free digital copy of The Collar and the Cavvarach!

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Leipzig Book Fair

The last few months have been extremely busy and this blog got too little attention from me. I’m sorry for that and hope to change it again. I like the variety of authors we’ve got here. Today, I’d like to introduce the best book fair for interacting with German readers to you: Leipzig Book Fair.

Leipzig Book Fair Logo

There are two big book fairs in Germany every year (and tons of smaller, more targeted ones), one in Frankfurt and one, lesser known, in Leipzig. The book fair in Frankfurt is a lot bigger than the one in Leipzig, and it’s more focused on the publishing professionals. Leipzig is more cozy and fully aimed at readers. So if you plan on connecting with readers, Leipzig is the place to go.

I joined a group of German Indies who all received the Qindie (a quality badge for Indie publications) and we set up our booth for the second time. Last year was successful (with quite a long tail of sales after the fair) but flawed. This year, we came better prepared.

 

Here are a few tips on how to visit a book fair as a presenter:

  • no more than 2 authors at the booth or there’s no room for readers
  • put several samples, flyers, bookmarks etc. into one folder, readers like to take those along much more than loose booklets or pieces of paper. We spread nearly 1000 of those
  • know at least the basic gist of the books on display so you can help readers to find the right book; even if they don’t buy yours, they will remember the friendly face and maybe recommend you to a friend (happened to me) and also, the other author will help to promote your books if he notices your efforts
  • if possible walk around the fair and look at other booths so you can talk about the fair in general with the people stopping at your booth- enjoy yourself; getting a booth usually is expensive and you will most likely not make the money back during the fair, but the increase in visibility will help you long term
  • bring food since buying it at the fair is expensive

 

Now to the Leipzig Book Fair in particular.

lbm2016_0869There are 5 halls connected with glass tunnels. Usually one of the halls is reserved for Comics, Mangas, Anime, and Cosplayer. Naturally the Cosplayer spill over into the other halls too, so you’ve always got something to look at with awe (I’ll be posting the nicest costumes on my author blog soon). Be prepared for crowds, especially in the reading arenas, often many people squeeze together to listen to a presentation. I really enjoyed all the halls, but spend only little time with the school books. One thing to take into account is how tired your feet grow when you move around the halls for any length of time.

This year 260,000 visitors came to Leipzig, and of those 195K entered the halls (96K for the Mangas and Comics alone). Despite there being more people than last year, I think they spread out better. I was able to move through the halls on every day. Last year I got stuck in the corridors and tunnels. In total there were0 2.250 presenters from 42 countries.

If you plan to come to the next Leipzig Book Fair (as a visitor or a presenter) please contact me. I’d love to meet you there. And now, tell me if you’ve been to a book fair in your home country. What was it like? And if you haven’t, what’s preventing you from it?

New Releases for Debbie Mumford!

FR16 Hidden in Crime ebook cover
I’m thrilled to announce that I have a short story in this anthology!

Edited by the incomparable Kristine Kathryn Rusch, this volume focuses on historical crime fiction–specifically, stories about crimes that are no longer against the law.

Writing “Sisters in Suffrage” was a departure for me since I don’t write mysteries or crime fiction. My usual genres are all speculative in nature, so I was stymied about how to approach this story. When I realized that the crime didn’t have to be solved, that I could simply tell a story about something that horrified me, I was on my way.

I had written a blog post several years ago encouraging women voters to exercise the rights that our foremothers suffered to earn for us. I knew when I began my research that my right to vote hadn’t come freely, but I hadn’t realized the extent to which “suffrage” and “suffering” had been related. When the memory of my research surfaced, “Sisters in Suffrage” was born.

I hope readers will enjoy this anthology, but even more I hope the stories will make people think about what’s legal, what isn’t…and why.

And in other news…

Astromancer-Cover-2x3

My short story “Astromancer” is now live on Amazon and will be coming soon to Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and all the Smashwords affiliates!

Apprentice Alchemist Wyot is an astrologer of the third rank. He dreams of becoming an astromancer, one of the elite few who move starships between the known planets, but knows he lacks the innate magical talent required to fulfill his lofty ambition. When the Thrice Great commands his presence, Wyot has no idea what to expect from the leader of the legendary Emerald Enclave.

It’s been a very good week!

New Release

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

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

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

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

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

Free Fantasy Story–A Singular Inheritance–Final Episode

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

A Singular Inheritance

by Sue Santore

continued–part four

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gasps came from around the room.

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

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

More gasps.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You will never have my power.”

“Then your brother must die.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clash of Wills: It All Comes Together

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

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

LoH_kg_1_map northern lands

But is it Ever Really Over?

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

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

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.

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