Tuesday Snippet: Hero of Corsindor – Chapter 4

Hero of Corsindor 2018-2Hero of Corsindor
Chapter 4

Shira packed her few clothes into a bag. She couldn’t bring more than her horse could carry. It would be better to have more food and weapons than clothes. She would miss this tent. She could barely stand in the center and it had a small cot in the corner.

A trunk held her clothes and weapons. She would have to leave much of it if she was only allowed one horse.

She didn’t turn to look when she heard the tent flap crackle. She had wanted to tell Oor that she was leaving, but the Counselor had cautioned her.

Well, she hadn’t told him, but he would have to be suspicious after seeing her packing.

“You’ll need this,” Oor said. He handed her a small ebony knife. She wrapped the knife in cotton and place it in the pouch that hung on her belt. There was a small blue jewel in the knife that was the exact color of her eyes.

“Thank you,” said Shira. “It’s lovely.”

She waited for him to leave, but he just looked at her with a little disappointment in his eyes. Oor was like a father to her. While training her, he had trained her and taught her all of his tricks. She hated to see that look in his eyes.

“You aren’t leaving without me,” he told her.

“I can’t,” she said. “You are needed here.”

He smiled. “You think I’m too old for the journey. Well, you don’t get a choice. I’ve already talked to the Counselor. Get your butt in gear because our horses are waiting for us.”

Oor grabbed her bag then pulled out most of the clothes. “You won’t be needing these.”

She was half-resigned and very amused when they made their way to the barn. Malkiah was there already. He had two horses geared up and ready.

Two people knowing her mission was two many, but three? “You aren’t going too?”
Malkiah shook his head, no. Then he smiled. “You know that when you leave I am next in line to be the Councilor’s protector?”

Shira hadn’t thought of that. Still she knew that the Counselor would run him ragged. “Good luck with that,” she smiled back.

Even though they were rivals, she would miss him. Malkiah was short, muscled, with dark hair bound in leather strips. His brown eyes could twinkle when he wasn’t angry. Shira had to admit that she liked making him angry. He spent too much of his time being self-important.

“Keep Cianne out of trouble” was her parting shot. Malkiah frowned.

Shira swung her leg over the saddle and settled in. Oh yea, Malkiah was angry that she had mentioned Cianne. That woman had too much ambition in her body and she used that ambition to get Malkiah, her son, in positions of power.

Oor leaped onto the two-tone white and brown gelding, “Quit murmuring love words and let’s get going.”

“Oh hell,” Shira would miss him. She leaned over the saddle and planted a kiss on Malkiah’s lips. He was shocked. Well, that shut him up. He did stroke her hair.

She turned the horse north and didn’t look back.

***

As soon as they reached the forest, the tree limbs of the fir trees closed around them and it became harder to ride. Shira got off of her horse after Oor. They led their horses through the small narrow trail. The detritus crunched under Shira’s feet. The two people, two horses, and one mule could not pass unnoticed.

As they passed the outer edges of the trees, the trunks became thicker and the moon that had risen only a few minutes before hid its face in the upper branches. Not even a little moonlight lit the forest floor.

When they reached a small clearing near a stream, Shira saw a few bits of rope on the ground near the tree. That wouldn’t have alarmed her much except there were huge claw marks on the trunk of a cottonwood with roots drinking thirstily from the burbling stream.

Still they decided to camp here for the rest of the night and get a head start in the morning. It was going to be a cold camp. After tying the horses and mules to stakes so they could graze and get water, Shira rolled up in a blanket under the clawed-up tree. Oor would take the first watch tonight.

Shira woke at the first howl.

She jumped up and rolled her blanket. Even if they could get the horses saddled again, the nightstalker was too close. She knew it was a nightstalker. There was nothing else that would make the back of her hairs stand on end.

She looked longingly at the stream. Nightwalkers were like other scent predators. If they could get away without being seen, then they might have a chance. When she started that direction, Oor caught her arm and put a finger to his lips.

Stupid. Stupid. The nightstalker was close enough to hear them. The stream was not the escape she could take.

Shira slid out her short sword from her belt and readied herself for an extremely bloody death. Nightstalkers mauled their prey and ate the meat bloody, raw, and live.

Oor didn’t have his sword out. Before she could say anything she heard a rustle coming from the tops of the trees. She faced the new danger with her sword out.

Oor grabbed her wrist and pointed her sword down. He shook his head, no.
The bushes moved from the outside of the clearing moved closer. She blinked her eyes and the bushes were even closer. When she took another look, there were four small men barely over four feet standing around them.

They wore spiked armor that resembled the bushes. Shira admired the camouflage and the work that had went into making them. It took a fine artisan to make it.

“No, it can’t be,” Shira whispered to Oor. “The little people are myths.”

Oor just grinned at her astonishment.

A man in green tights walked through the little warriors. He had a hat with a long feather that swept the ground behind him. Oor poked Shira in the ribs before she laughed.

“SPAKRSF,” said the little man.

“SPAKRSF,” Oor answered, and then spread his hands with the palm ups.

“What is he saying?” Shira asked.

Oor frowned at her. She wanted to roll her eyes because he would say the same thing he always said. Use your gift.
So she tried to hear with her ears and heart. “I can’t find it,” she said.

“It’s a first world language.”

Shira took a deep breath and tried to calm herself as the nightstalker’s howls came closer. She lost herself for a moment in the deep blackness until Oor pinched her. She came back with a blush on her cheek.

“Ha, ha, ha,” said the little man. “She thinks I’m a wizard. You need to teach her better, old friend.”

“Hush,” Oor said. “She’s never met a creature as ugly as you before. Remember when you met your first world creature? You screeched and ran away.”

“Well,” said the little man. “You were big and hairy.”

“Surely, I haven’t changed that much?”

“So is this a reunion?” Shira asked. “Do you this is the proper moment for introductions?” Shira’s complaint was punctured by another howl.

“This is Stefan Gomez Alvirez Antonio McFarland. Shorty to his friends. I call him, Runt,” said Oor.

The howl that echoed through the woods was so close that both Shira and Runt jumped.

“Can we continue this conversation in a safer place?” Oor asked.

Shorty whistled in such a high pitch that Shira barely heard it. Long hemp ropes coiled down from the tops of the trees. Shira could see several little people high in the branches.

“Our horses,” said Shira. She wouldn’t leave them to the nightstalker.

“We’ll take care of them,” said Shorty. Two large baskets were lowered to the ground. “Get in.”

Shira and Oor scrambled in the woven baskets. The baskets swayed as the little people in the trees heaved to get them up and hidden in the higher branches. It swayed so much that Shira felt nauseous. She swallowed the bile down and closed her eyes.

The ride seemed like an eternity. But it wasn’t forever. Soon a little woman was coaxing her out of the basket. Shira shook, but followed the woman. There was a temporary bridge between the trees that was made of wooden planks.

“Don’t look down,” said the little woman. She helped Shira into the next basket. It dangled from a series of ropes across the trees to a destination that was too far for her eyes to see.

She took a deep breath and told her stomach to be good. The basket whizzed down the ropes and the air rushed and slapped her face. Her shoulders cramped. Her fingers cramped as she clung to the edge of the basket.

The nightwalker howled beneath her. It was a cry of a predator that had lost its prey.

Shira shivered.

***

As Shira gently swayed, the darkness deepened. A small lit glinted and a strong current whirled her toward that light. She bumped through a tunnel, black jagged rocks, cave openings, and hieroglyphics flashed across her corneas. She fell and fell and fell.

She landed softly on a soft velvety grass. She was surprised to be on her feet. The sun shone straight down on her so her shadow was hidden.

“Where am I?” she asked softly. She wasn’t expecting an answer so she was surprised when she heard a soft voice.

“I have called you,” it said.

When she felt a feathery light touch on her legs, she looked down and saw a small kitten rubbing her leg.

The kitten sat on its haunch in front of her.

“Listen.” It looked at Shira directly and Shira could not look away. “At Hunter’s Quarry, there is a small cave guarded by a nightstalker named Rhali. He has traded his birthright for destruction. Kill him. He hosts the soul of a young man.”

“Go with my blessings.” A whirling light touched the top of the kitten’s head and traveling down its body. Turning into a whirlwind, it clawed Shira, leaving three marks on her ribs.

“My mark is upon you.”

A white pearl necklace was placed around Shira’s neck. The light became smaller and smaller until Shira was in the blackness again.

A young woman shook her. “Get out, please. I can’t carry you.” Shira opened her eyes. “You poor thing. You’ve hurt yourself.”

Shira crawled out of the basket. She must have had a dream while she was traveling so high above the ground. She promised that if she ever got back on the ground, she wouldn’t come back…ever.

Her ribs stung so she looked down. There was blood on the shirt. When she lifted it up, there was three claw marks on her ribs. The small woman helped her to a hut in the tree city.

She fussed over Shira, wiping the cut and putting salve on it. “You need to be careful of infection,” she said.

Soon Shira couldn’t keep her eyes open. She was on a bed so short that her feet hung over the sides.

As she was falling into that twilight dusk of sleep, she thought she heard voices.

“She is a child of the third world,” said a deep male voice.

A light curled up on the table next to Shira. In the light was a small gray tabby cat with deep forest green eyes.

“She is called,” the cat said.

A light breeze whispered through a window and touched Shira on the forehead. She slept.

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Tuesday Snippet – Hero of Corsindor – Chapter 3b

Hero of Corsindor 2018-2Silas came to slowly, while his head exploded from the pain. The back and top of his head pulsed. He tried to rub his temples, but his hands were tied at his back. He was drooling, face down in the dirt, next to his mule.

He tried to open his eyes, but a bright burst of light stabbed them and made his head hurt even worse. He shut his eyes tight and moaned.

“Where am I?”

“Ah,” Silas could hear the smooth round tones of his captor. “The prisoner is awake.

As the man came closer to him, Silas’ nose was overwhelmed with the smell of rotten eggs. Silas dry-gagged.

“The bonds were to protect you,” his captor said. He sliced the bonds and pulled Silas to his feet. Silas tried to open his eyes again and this time he squinted.

His captor was tall and dark. His eyes were a dark black with no irises. Silas shivered just a little. If his captor had had normal eyes, he would have been a handsome man. Silas looked down at his feet instead of facing his captor.

“Why am I here?” Silas mumbled. He was still weak and could barely get his mouth to move. His hands and feet started prickling and he almost missed the answer.

“My prince,” said the man. “I’ve been looking for you for too long.”

The shock of being called a prince made Silas stand straighter and look into the man’s face. The man had no wrinkles. There was no life experience etched into his face. Silas felt his heart drop to his stomach. He had been captured by a demon. He tried to stop the shivers, but his body had other ideas.

The man-shaped demon smiled, showing sharp teeth that could rend flesh. Silas shook harder.

Abruptly the man-shaped demon frowned at him. “I have no time to play with you prince. Quit acting like prey.”

Silas took a deep breath and let it out.

“I am Rhali,” said the man-demon. For a moment Silas had hope. If he had the demon’s real name he would be able to free himself.

The demon, Rhali, picked him up and threw him over the mule, then tied him down. The mule should have run from the demon. Animals were more afraid of these things than humans. Humans made deals with these creatures.

The mule was docile though. Rhali must have some type of magical hold on the animal.
Silas tried to wiggle out of his bounds. Maybe if he rolled off the mule, he could hide in the forest. His bounds were tight, but not too tight.

Rhali lead the mule and talked and talked and talked. His voice must have been spelled because Silas relaxed and finally heard the words.

“You’ll make a suitable sacrifice, prince,” murmured Rhali. “You are bound to me. If I die, then you die. If you die, I then will die but I will live on in another body.” He laughed. The sound echoed and hurt the trees around him. He was unnatural

“If I die, then you will die. If you die, then I will die.”

There was no escape.

It may have been hours or days because Silas had lost track of time, when Rhali stopped the mule in a small clearing near a small creek, a tributary of the Snake river that flowed through the heart of Corsindor.
Rhali dragged him off the mule and dropped him on the hard dirt. He did a little gesture with his hand and Silas was lifted in the air and thrown on a branch of the tree. The rope was thrown over him and wound around him like a huge snake.
It happened so quickly that Silas was snug against the branch before he could struggle. It was like Rhali was stashing him like food for the next day. There was a burning next to his heart where he assumed was where he was bound to this evil creature.

“Why?” asked Silas as if he would get a different answer.

“Don’t look down,” Rhali warned, ignoring his question.

Silas felt rather than saw Rhali leave. The tree bark scratched his cheek. The whirling sound of grasshoppers and other insects soothed him. In the distance he could hear the howl of a night hunter. He was too tired and still hurt too badly to be scared of it.

The moon rose as beautiful as a young girl in a spring gown. It’s glow made the clearing from his viewpoint made the grasses lining the banks of the creek almost ethereal.

As the moon rays touched him, his neck became itchy. His hands were bound so tightly to the branch that he couldn’t scratch. He slide his hands, scraping them until they bled. His fingernails had become claws and were covered in fur.

He finally knew what the demon meant. He was bound body and soul to the demon. Every night Silas would experienced the nocturnal turning with him.

At this realization, Silas screamed as he tried to struggle, but he was bound too tightly to move. He felt his body crack and change. It was too much horror. He blacked out.

The sun had already risen when Silas woke up to a violent headache. He was still trussed to the tree, but the rope had loosened enough during the night that he could wiggle out of it.

Next to the grazing mule was a horse. He didn’t know why he was surprised that Rhali had a horse—a nice gelding at that. A note was pinned to the saddle bags.

“Meet me at Hound’s Quarry.”

Silas had no options except obedience. If he showed up at his village with his furry problem, they would shoot him first and ask questions later. He sighed.

He led the horse to the creek so it could get a good drink. Next was the mule’s turn. He but the saddle bags on the mule, tied the mule to the saddle, and then mounted the gelding. He wasn’t used to riding something so fine. In the village he was considered odd because the blacksmith made sure he could read and ride. Only nobles rode.

It would take a few days to get to Hound’s Quarry. He had a fuzzy idea that it was in that direction. He could feel a line stretch from himself to Rhali. Yep, that direction.

Maybe he would come up with an escape plan before then. He nudged the horse.

Tuesday Snippet – Hero of Corsindor – Chapter 3a

Sorry for this late post. I had an appointment this morning that wore me out. Also I will be seeing my nephrologist tomorrow.  Here is Chapter 3a:
Hero of Corsindor 2018-2
The craggy mountains sliced the sky as the sun painted the forest in red, gold, and finally black. In the darkness small animals scratched in the underbrush near Silas Forster’s feet. He huffed as he walked up a small incline. If it had been daylight, he would have seen the valley spread before him as he descended.

He scrapped his feet in the path’s loose dirt and stopped as the small mule bumped into his back. He held the mule’s bridle, brushing its face, pulled small piece of carrot out of his pocket, and fed it to the mule. The mule bumped his chest in thanks.

It was the last piece of carrot he had. He needed to get back to the village with a load of firewood for his master. His master was the village blacksmith and he needed a large amount of wood to turn into charcoal. He mended the pots, pans, knives and plows.

Not every village had a blacksmith. Badendorf was richer than most.

It was the first time that Silas’ master had allowed him to gather wood in the deep forest.

Usually his master spent a small amount of his valuable coin to hire the woodcutter. He even sent Silas with the woodcutter to choose the right wood for the fire.

Silas had asked once why the blacksmith hadn’t apprenticed him to the woodcutter. The blacksmith just got a little cagey and put him on the bellows. Silas was too scrawny and slim to pound the iron. He had tried once and couldn’t even pick up the hammer that the blacksmith used.

The only his master let slip was that he had promised Silas’ mother to care for him until… The master shut his mouth and didn’t say anything more about Silas’s mother or his family.

Silas gave the mule a quick pat then led the mule down the path. Tree limbs slashed at him as he strained to see the path. An owl hooted, which made Silas jump just a little. He snorted at his small panic. The mule nudged him again.

Next time he would leave sooner. The woodcutter was always nervous when they left too late. He would look at their back trail and search the trees. Now Silas was alone and he stopped himself from looking back. His shoulder blades twitched and he could feel eyes on the back of his neck.

His stomach growled. He needed to get back soon or there wouldn’t be any supper left. His stomach growled again.

Silas was tall, taller than the other villagers. The boys his age had grown stout and muscular. Although he was the same brown color with the same brown eyes, he was lean and a several inches taller than the others.

This was the latest he had been in the forest. As he held the mule’s lead, he remembered the last villager who had been caught in the dark. It was just a mile from here.

The villager had been found on the outskirts of a farm with his throat ripped out. The men in the village had buried the remains before the children saw it. The women told the children that it wasn’t safe to be out after dark. There was a savage animal waiting to eat them.

The younger men were not deterred by monster stories. Silas had thought it was just a large mountain cat that had wandered to civilization. It would go back into the mountains. Except now in the dark of the forest, he remembered the blood and flesh on the ground. He wanted to touch his own throat.

He picked up speed as they reached the bottom of the mountain and started towards the rolling hills that opened to the valley.

When the leaves rustled behind him, his stomach sunk to his toes. Silas wished for a weapon… a stick or a sword… something so that he wouldn’t be defenseless. If an animal was stalking him, then he should face it.

He could hear the breaths of the mule as it started to pant. He stepped into the mule to calm it down. He wouldn’t be able to handle a panicked mule and danger.

He turned to face the rustling bushes. The panic drained from him as he focused towards the fear and pulled his energy too him. Before he could defend himself a net of pure energy fell from the trees and captured him. The mule screamed and ran away towards safety.

The energy ate into his body and he screamed in pain.

A dark figure approached and watched him writhing on the ground.
“Well, well,” it said. “I caught a prince.”

Tuesday Snippet – Hero of Corsindor – Chapter 2

Hero of Corsindor 2018-2Queen Mallory’s small private balcony was molded to the side of the looming gray castle. This castle was built for defense with inner and outer courtyards, parapets, and high walls.

During the late war bowmen had loosed arrows from the parapets, while men on the walls and men on the ground defended this very castle. It’s history was bloody at best.

The light flickered and disappeared into the shadow of its walls. Queen Mallory gazed down into the courtyard as she had done many times in the last twenty years. In her hand she clutched her current needlework of a phoenix burning in ashes just before rebirth.

Her long dark vibrant hair was hidden by a wimple. Her virtue was all she had now. She was a stranger in a strange land and a hostage to fortune. She had been wed to this king and she had failed at her one duty. She had not born a son.

Maria. That name made her want to stab her needle into the phoenix and rip the cloth. That little commoner mistress of the king’s had ruined so much. She had had a child and then she had died. The king had looked at the queen with disgust on good days. After Maria’s death, he wouldn’t even touch her.

So there was no child. If for a moment she had known that she wouldn’t have a child, she would have taken that newborn son of Maria’s…

The needle slipped from the fabric and punctured the queen’s finger. She set the needlework now. A maid hurried over and wrapped her finger in a white cloth. Then she backed away. The queen’s temper was legendary. The maid kept her eyes away from the queen and stood near the door.

The queen had listened to the insinuating hisses of her courtier, Rhali as he bowed to her. The mistress would gain power at the birth of a son, he had said as he leaned toward her. To her regret she had listened to him. He was so handsome and lean and had made her heart beat faster.

She hadn’t known that he was a snake. It was Rhali that had given her the tea that she had brewed for the pregnant mistress. In the end the mother died at her hand. The baby died soon after.

Instead of mourning and then turning to her for comfort, the king had spent the last twenty years insisting that his son was alive. He spent every last bit of his influence and power looking for that child. While he was obsessed, she had taken over the reigns of the government.

She knew how low the coffers were getting. She wiped her hands down her gown. It hadbeen more than a year since she had even had a new dress.

The king spent his days and nights tucked into a laboratory that he had built in the ballroom. She hadn’t seen the king or his magician, a lowly sneaky crow, in days. The magician was brewing a new potion that would help the king find his son.

Neither the needlework in her hand nor the scene of the mountains from the window captured her attention. She wanted to rub her temples to relieve the headache, threatening to become full-blown.

An under-servant cleared his throat. Just the distraction she needed from her thoughts.

“Your Highness,” he said. He bowed deeply.

She waited for him to face her. When she saw the carefully blank face of the servant, she knew something was very wrong.

“His Highness is calling for you.” The servant stepped back respectfully.

She picked up her skirts, ran through the door, and almost ran to the laboratory. She shook the door handle, trying to open one of the locked doors. The under-servant who had ran behind her, pushed in front and put his full strength to pulling the door open.

“It was open earlier,” he muttered.

She could hear the king calling. With another heave, the door finally opened. She stood at the threshold for a moment to survey in the room.

In the center of the room was a pentacle drawn in white chalk. The king stood in the center o f it. She could see drool dribbling down the corner of his mouth. His eyes had that lost dim look of a mentally deficient child.

As she walked closer to him she could hear the words he was mumbling. “I’ve found him. I’ve found him. I’ve found him,” the king repeated.

“Where?” she asked. But he didn’t hear her and continued repeating his message.

She brushed the chalk with her skirts and the king collapsed into her arms. The under-servant was there to take the full weight of the king or she would have collapsed.

“Guards. Guards.” She yelled. The guards took the king from her and the under-servant and carried him to his chambers. They wouldn’t drag his royal ass. A little bitterness colored her thoughts.

She had been more worried about the king than the supposed wizard. About fifty feet away from the pentacle, she found the wizard’s cold body. She checked this pulse. There was none. A wind rattled through the ballroom and it chilled her.

The papers around the wizard’s body blew through the air and landed into the fireplace at the other end of the ballroom. She tried to jump and catch them. The papers would tell her what these two idiots were playing with, but she didn’t have a chance.

The ballroom became so cold that she started to shiver. The under-servant grabbed her by the arm and dragged her out into the hallway. She looked up at the runes on the doorway. She hadn’t noticed them before. Now they were glowing red and they seemed to look at her.

She felt some regret for what she had to do next. She sent the under-servant to get more guards. Then when he was gone.

When she was a girl, her mother had taught her the shape of runes for protection. She now regretted that she had never been interested in her mother’s craft. She tried to remember the shape of those runes.

White smoke started to seep through the door. She had to do something because the smell of brimstone began to intensify. She wanted to cough.

What hope did she have? She could give in again or she could protect what little belonged to her. She put her hand up, ignoring her head that was screaming at her that she had no power, and traced the runes for protection above the runes on the door.

As she traced, she saw the runes on the door glow green. She kept tracing and the runes on the door turned a fir green. A blast of sound reached her ears and she was thrown against the other wall.

The under-servant with the guards ran toward her. She took a deep breath or tried to.

The under-servant helped her up. She closed her eyes, took another breath, and sighed.
“Guard this door,” she told the two guards.

The under-servant walked her back to her own chambers. She wiped her hands down her dress. The pins in her hair had fallen out and she looked a mess. She straightened her back and walked into the chambers.

This group of women who attended her were a mess of spies from her enemies. The fact that she was disheveled wouldn’t go past any of these eyes. Still her ladies-in-waiting helped her into a new dress. They braided and pinned up her hair. Not one of them showed surprise.

“Send for the Castellan,” the queen ordered.

She didn’t have to wait long. Sir Robert Astru walked in without knocking. He glanced around the room, noting the tapestried, ladies-in-waiting, and her. He smiled, showing bright white teeth. He was a handsome man with dark hair and eyes who according to the gossips liked his paramours young.

“What are you doing here?”

“You asked for the Castellan. I am here.” One of the ladies-in-waiting put a hand over her mouth and giggled. Sir Robert bowed to the giggling girl. Queen Mallory eyes hardened just a little. She wouldn’t forget this slight.

“I asked for the Castellan.” The queen kept her voice even.

He looked at her with a slight sneer. “The one you seek is gone. I have taken his duties.”

So that was why some of her orders had been ignored and why some of the court would titter when she walked by. The ladies-in-waiting watched her avidly to see what she would say or demand of Sir Robert.

Instead she said, “Guards are posted at the ballroom. The king is in his old rooms and he needs a doctor.” She raised her eyebrows in anticipation of his disagreement.

“I will send my doctor to him.”

“As my queen wishes,” said Sir Robert. For a moment the queen could see why her court was fascinated with this man. He glowed with health and was a handsome beast. She kept her face blank, hoping he hadn’t caught her thought.

“Is there anything I’ve missed?” she asked him. For a moment he said nothing as if she had surprised him.

“I’ve will put the king next to your rooms,” he said. “Better to guard you and him if there is a need.”

If she hadn’t known when she first got here that Corsindorians liked intrigue, she would have figured it out after living here. Sir Robert Astru was a cousin of the king so he had been breathing intrigue from his birth. He was rubbing the scar on his right index finger, a scar given by a rival.

His normal mask slipped and his eyes looked thoughtful, “How dangerous is the ballroom?”

Queen Mallory bit her lip. What she said here would be all over the castle as soon as she finished. She sighed. They wouldn’t be able to keep this secret.

“It’s very dangerous,” she said slowly. “I traced a protection rune and it barely kept it contained. We need to watch the doors closely to make sure it doesn’t break the ward on the door.”

She didn’t want to reveal the next part, but he probably already knew. “Whatever it was, it was whispering in the king’s ear. He thinks he has found the prince.” Her throat closed up and she cleared it.

She felt relief when Sir Robert agreed with her. The court had become more and more unruly as the king slipped into madness. Sir Robert would be a good ally.

“I will leave the guards at both the king’s door and his ballroom.”

She wanted to sink into the floor with relief. Instead she tightened her knees and stood proud.

“You do know that it could overpower the guards.”

“I thought of that,” she said. “My doctor will give then an amulet that will give them enough protection to warn us before the door bursts. When the door goes red, the ward is breached.”

Sir Robert frowned, made an abrupt about face and marched out the door. It would be done.

The queen sighed and gracefully sunk into a padded chair. She casually glanced around. Rose was missing, the giggling girl who flirted with Sir Robert. At least she now knew who the snake was in her garden.

Tuesday Snippet – Hero of Corsindor – Chapter 1b

As the sun touched the peak of the gray mountain, the last rays hit the large tent that had been erected as a banquet hall in the center of the nomad city. The last of the light turned the tent from orange to gold and then to a pale yellow.

As the last light disappeared into the dark night, the pale gray tent glowed yellow from the lamps lit inside. It was a gathering that only happened once a decade. The Ahrah gathered together to eat, drink, laugh, and sing. They would trade stock and this was where the younger men could meet potential brides.

Shira slid into the noise and stepped through the opening. Young women and children were serving lamb seasoned with hot red peppers, garlic, and onions. The heat in one bite would burn the mouth and warm the belly. Each family brought their own signature dish to the feast so the tables groaned with carrots, potatoes, peas, beans, and corn.

Shira had help set up the tables for the feast. One of the Counselor’s advisers had come up with a table that could be easily assembled and disassembled. Usually in a family setting, Shira and Oor would sit on blankets and eat cross-legged. It was strange to see tables. Instead of blankets, the families set on chairs. It was a novel ideal.

Oor had told her once that their neighbors didn’t sit on the ground. That they used tables and chairs all the time. Who would have the time to assemble or disassemble the things before moving on? It just didn’t make sense.

She wouldn’t pass up the chance to sit on the things even if they looked too rickety to hold an adult’s weight. Shira ambled around the tables, going to the big table at the other end of the opening. She greeted friends and non-friends alike, keeping a simple smile on her face.

Oor was fond of saying that she was not old enough to have enemies. So instead of showing her disdain, she nodded politely to the more powerful council members.

Unfortunately she would have to walk by Malkiah’s mother, Cianne. His mother kept her face covered in a transparent white veil, which moved back and forth with her breath.

“Sit with me,” she said. Shira could not afford to upset Cianne. She was one of the most powerful members of the Council. Also she was a traditionalist, hence the white veil.

Her stated position was that the Ahrah needed more men in powerful positions. She had been politely angry when the Ahrah had selected a woman as the Councilor.

Before the veil had fallen obscuring the Ahrah from their neighbors, many of the best warriors died in the border wars. Corsindor wanted their land.

The border veil changed all that. Corsindor had forgotten them. Still there was a shortage of men. The birthrate of boys was low and many of them died before they reached puberty.

Women stepped into the void to lead the people.

Shira bowed her head politely to Cianne and sat down on one of the rickety chairs across from her. She waited for Cianne’s pronouncements.

She had heard it all before. Cianne thought she was blessed above all other women because she had a boy, Malkiah and that her boy was now a man. It would only be advantageous if Shira would pledge herself to a strong man. Cianne would point to her son with her chin.

Shira knew were this would lead so she tried to head Cianne to other topics. Shira’s direction must have been clumsy because Cianne’s eyes gleamed. Her mouth pursed as if she had bitten into something sour.

Then Cianne shifted her body to the other council members at the table. She waved her hand sideways at Shira like an afterthought. “This is Shira,” she said.

Shira stood and made a formal bow to the elders, who were looking at her as if she were a rat caught stealing grain from the stable.

An old man with a long white beard sprinkled with crumbs sneered at her. “She has taught you well,” he said. The white haired lady with blue highlights bobbed her head as if the old man was a wise. She put some more meat onto his plate. He stopped and took a bite.

When he looked up at Shira, she knew he was going to say something cutting.

“She’s not one of us,” he said. Shira waited for the scriptures that was supposed to cut her down to size. “Woman is a bright jewel. Speak not. Her beauty radiates.”

She could tell he was quoting from the book because of the sonorous ring to his voice. Shira wanted to turn away and head to the table where her friends were. The meat wafted to her nose and her stomach growled. Instead she nodded politely as if he had made a hit.

Then she said, “Man is the ox of the family. He feeds and protects his family.” Shira knew she had made a hit when he jerked just a little.

Before he could roar at her, Cianne intervened. “Canroh was wise,” she said.
It was the gleam in Cianne’s eyes that warned Shira. She held herself still and waited for the blow.

“You had an audience with the Councilor.”

Shira nodded her head, yes. She stared into Cianne’s eyes, which reminded her of a snake. After a moment Shira said, “The Councilor is wise.”

The silence lasted until Shira bowed again and backed away. She could feel their eyes boring into the back of her head as she turned away.

She blew out a breath of air as she saw Oor at the table. There was a crooked smile on his face as he moved pulled a chair next to him. “Sit,” he said.

“So, the elders cornered you.”

There was nothing to say. Shira filled her plate and listened to Oor and one of his students argue about the merits of stick versus sword. She settled into the warm companionship and ate.

Who knew when there would be this much to eat again?

Last day for a free ebook

Hildaebookcover2015finishedIn honor of the 4th of JulyHilda’s Inn for Retired Heroes will be free from July 3-5.

In Delhaven, there is an Inn run by a retired mercenary. If you are a down-on-your-luck mercenary or men-at-arms, come to the public rooms and Hilda Brant, the owner, will give you a bowl of stew. If you want ale, hand over the coins. Hilda may give you floor space, but she expects you to pay in favors or coins.

The second book is Dragon Boy. 

Tuesday Snippet – Hero of Corsindor- Chapter One-a

Hero of Corsindor 2018-2 Shira stopped in the door to take in the magnificence that was the Counselor. Even by the oil lamps light, the Counselor’s robes were a whiteness that was almost impossible to clean. Shira idly wondered who had the job of keeping her quarters immaculate and her clothing in such good shape.

Shira dusted off her clothes, feeling shabby in the Counselor’s presence. She strode toward the center of the tent where the Counselor was sitting on a carved wooden chair.

A red pillow peeked from under her seat. A small portable wooden tray next to her held her inks, quills, and books. Shira could tell she had recently used her quill because there was a light black dot on her finger.

When she stood in front of the Counselor, Shira bowed deeply.

“No need for that here, child.”

Shira stood at attention, trying to honor this woman who led the Ahrah. The Counselor smiled. Shira had not been close the Counselor in a long time. Around the Counselor’s lips and forehead, the lines had gotten deeper. Her skin was pale and papery. Her eyes were the colors of bruised grapes and not the normal dark brown of her people. Under the lavender perfume was a slight dark smell of earth and rot.

Shira’s stomach clenched as she saw into this woman, who had taken the Ahrah from a few tents to a large community. She was sick, very sick. Shira waited for her to speak.

The silence became long as the Counselor used a cane to get to her feet. She leaned against the cane and when Shira tried to reach for her, she gave Shira a look that told Shira stay put.

Shira settled back into her position and waited. The silence became longer and Shira wanted to fidget. You didn’t fidget in front of the most powerful woman in your world. She wiggled her toes and waited.

The Counselor sighed. “You are so young.” Now the Counselor was inches from Shira’s face. She looked deeply into Shira’s eyes. Then she touched Shira’s cheek. When had the Counselor become so old?

The Counselor sank back into her chair exhausted.

“I must tell you your origins.”
Shira had wondered where she had come from and who her people were. All her life she had been an outsider with her pale corn-silk locks. Now she would know where she came from.

“We found you, a little baby, near the great veil that is our protection against our southern neighbors.”

The oil lamp flickered and the Counselor’s face became even older to Shira’s eyes. It was not the romantic beginning Shira had thought she would have. She had been a foundling.

They had taken a big risk to shelter a foundling. So many things could have gone wrong.
Oor was not shy about the stories of demon foundlings who had grown up to kill their foster families. He had told her that if she found a foundling to leave it there. It was not safe.

Shira felt an electric shock go through her body. She could have been that foundling.

“We decided to take a risk because you looked so much like our blood-thirsty neighbors to the south. We would raise you, train you, and make you one of our own.”

Shira could see the strategy. The veil had been powered by magic for so many years. Children with magic were rare and in the last few years there were less and less Ahrah mages who could renew the spell that separated the two countries.

“But we can’t keep you.”

Shira wanted to interrupt the Counselor and tell her she would be loyal to her and to the Ahrah for taking in a foundling. Instead of bursting in speech, her training kicked in and she became a statue.

“I had a vision,” The Counselor closed her eyes for a moment. The lines in her face deepened. “You through the woods with a sword in your hand. Under your feet were the skulls of the Ahrah. You were fierce, but a hairy dark man pulled you down to the ground and pierced your throat.”

The Counselor took Shira’s hands in her own.

“Child. Cut your hair. Burn your locks. You are not one of us. Your destiny is not here.
A wetness moistened Shira’s cheek. She took a deep breath and wanted to pull her hands out of the old woman’s hands.

“You leave tonight after the banquet. Tell no one.”

Hildaebookcover2015finishedIn honor of Liberty Con and the 4th of JulyHilda’s Inn for Retired Heroes will be free from July 3-5.

In Delhaven, there is an Inn run by a retired mercenary. If you are a down-on-your-luck mercenary or men-at-arms, come to the public rooms and Hilda Brant, the owner, will give you a bowl of stew. If you want ale, hand over the coins. Hilda may give you floor space, but she expects you to pay in favors or coins.