Sneak Peek Friday

OWS Summer Reading List

The Official Our Write Side (OWS) Summer Reading List is out, and I was so surprised to see that Journey to Aviad is on it! Fellow author Renee Scattergood also made the list with her Shadow Stalker series. Congratulations Renee!

51J6aQb160L__SX331_BO1,204,203,200_So in celebration, this week I’m featuring an excerpt from Journey to Aviad, which is permafree as an ebook. If you haven’t read it yet, you can easily add it to your summer reading list.

This particular excerpt came to mind, as the horrific event it mentions also plays out in Into the Shadow Wood, but from a different perspective. Watch for my upcoming cover reveal and release date!

Amazon     Barnes and Noble     Smashwords

 


The caravan was slow and cumbersome, and strangely silent. The only voices to be heard were those of the younger children playing together in the carts. There was no singing, or storytelling, or idle conversation to pass the time as one might expect on a journey of that sort. All wore a haggard look—eyes red-rimmed, and expressions numb. Elowyn thought these people looked very much like animals stunned by a predator’s venom, stumbling about in shock and confusion, slowly and unwittingly marching on towards their inevitable demise. Elowyn realized that she probably wore the same expression, exhausted from lack of sleep, and unable to forget the image of the troll and the watchman being eaten alive. That moment in time kept replaying itself over and over in her mind, until the images became so surreal and strange that she wondered if they had really happened at all. She could almost convince herself that it had been a nightmare, except there she still was, marching along with a group of complete strangers, on a road she had never traversed before. If it was only a nightmare, she was still in it, praying desperately to be wakened.

When after a long day of walking the group finally camped for the night, Elowyn lit her own fire a short distance away. She was weary of the crowd and of feeling the weighty burden of everyone’s sorrows crushing down upon her soul. But she found that Morganne’s company was equally mournful. The fire had been fed and stoked many times before she would say anything at all, and even then she spoke with a broken voice.

“I never knew such things existed before today. Even had I known … I don’t think that I would have really understood without seeing. And as horrific as the trolls were, from what Gareth told us, the Hounds are far, far worse. I know in my mind that his word is true, but I fear that without seeing, I do not truly understand their danger either, and that frightens me even more than what I have just witnessed.”

Morganne grew quiet again for a few moments, and then with great brokenness said, “I am sorry. I should never have brought us. Nothing our mother could do would ever come close to the terror I saw unleashed by a single troll, let alone a Hound. It was wrong of me to think that I could make this journey, that you and Adelin were safer away from Tyroc. What I do not understand is why you came. You have seen a Hound—you were nearly slain by one. You knew the danger in a way that I could not, and yet you came.”

Elowyn gathered her thoughts carefully for a few moments, answering truthfully, “Tyroc was not so safe as you imagined it to be. Our cottage was no stronghold, and our mother no sure protector from danger. It is around Tyroc that the Hounds gather their strength. When they have overrun the woodlands, and Braeden has darkened the skies, who there would be strong enough to protect us?”

MEET JOURNEY TO AVIAD’S CHARACTERS

What’s on your #summer #reading list? Here’s our top 25! #ourwriteside #amreading

Advertisements

Sneak Peek Friday

Coming SoonThis week I’m featuring a brief glimpse into my work in progress, Into the Shadow Wood. Watch for my cover reveal in June, and an announcement with the final release date.

Interested in having your book featured here on Sneak Peek Friday?  I’m always happy to support my fellow authors.  Just contact me through my blog or my author Facebook page.


Surrounding the central room were darkened cells secured with iron bars and locks. We could not yet tell if anyone was inside, but there was no sound or movement save our own footfalls and rapid breaths. My commander brought his torch over to one of the cells so that he could peer in. The first was empty. There were no comforts to be found. Just a hard, cold stone floor scattered with dirty straw, a small basin for water, and chains firmly anchored into the wall. I shuddered at the thought of being kept prisoner in such a place.

We checked the next cell, ready to liberate any unfortunate soul we might find. But what the next cell contained made us quickly step back. Lying on the floor was something the size of a man, yet it was not a man. It had sickly blotched skin and a strange mark branded onto its forehead. I instantly recognized it as the beast I had mistaken Alaric for the night he wandered away from our camp. How had my mind conjured up the image of such a beast I never could have imagined on my own? This one was apparently dead. Its large red eyes were opened and vacant. The smell coming from within the cell left us gagging and gasping for air. I had to cover my face with my sleeve just to bear it.

But someone had been working on the beast, either before or after it died. Its body sported multiple bandages and one arm was immobilized against a wooden splint.
“Why would one bother to bandage the dead?” Alaric asked.

“More importantly, why would one keep a dead body shut away in a locked cell?” our commander asked.

“Because according to his journals, this necromancer has found a way to resurrect the dead,” I said. I did not doubt that it was true. Though the beast gave off a rank odor, it was not the smell of decaying flesh, nor did the body seem to be decomposing.

We stepped back from the cell. Clearly there was no need for a rescue attempt.

 

Indie Author Spotlight: Allison D. Reid

Today’s Sneak Peek Friday is a little different, giving  you a glimpse into the mind of the author behind the writing.  Hope you enjoy this very thoughtful interview conducted by fellow author and blogger David Wiley.

Author David Wiley

It is time for the May author of the month, and this is one I am excited to share with you. If you haven’t done so, you can read my review of Allison’s first book, Journey to Aviad, which is free on Kindle and Nook devices. Also, don’t forget that you can get a digital copy of King of Ages: A King Arthur Anthology for free for a limited time by signing up for my newsletter (plus some other great books and prizes for signing up to other newsletters!)

Welcome! Please tell us your name and a little bit about yourself.

My name is Allison D. Reid—home business owner by day, editor and Christian Fantasy author by night. To be honest, nothing makes me draw a blank faster than asking me this question.  One of the hazards of being an introvert, I guess.  I’d rather talk about anything but…

View original post 2,334 more words

Sneak Peek Friday

JTA BC 150Every Friday on my author Facebook page I will be featuring a sneak peek from one of my books.  Read it on my blog to get a longer version!  This week’s excerpt is from Ancient Voices: Into the Depths, which was released in November.

Amazon     BN     Smashwords     Createspace


 

The melody of the monks’ song was simple, but strong and haunting, with harmonies building slowly, layer upon layer, until they were so tightly woven together that no one voice could be distinguished from the others. They passed beneath Morganne and Elowyn’s window early in the afternoon, and through the open shutters, their strong, clear voices filled the room.

Elowyn thought their song seemed to belong more to the heavenly realm of Aviad than to the earth, its captivating power making her scalp tingle and her arms break out in goose bumps.  Morganne at first sunk to her knees in awed silence, then ran out to follow the procession through the village. Never had Minhaven been so still and quiet. No one dared to break the flow of the monks’ music, which cried out like an anguished prayer from their lips directly to the listening ear of Aviad.

No one worked, including Wyman, who closed the tavern. Fasting was the order of the day. They ate only vegetable broth with salted fish that Idna had made the day before, dry bread, and raw vegetables. People drifted in and out of the chapel, where the monks continued a litany of musical prayers. Their songs, dedicated to Immar, would not cease until the next sunrise. They rotated in and out so seamlessly that there was never a break in the music, not even for a moment. Morganne spent a great many hours huddled in the dank chapel, enrapt and seemingly lost in her own unspoken prayers.

Elowyn stayed for a while, but had difficulty sitting still for very long on the hard wooden seats. She found herself drifting away from the village, seeking out the Ancients in her own solitary way. She walked across the open field behind Morganne’s shop, where she had first met Cailean, and down the well-worn path that led to the sea. Tyroc’s coastline had been flat and sandy, crammed full of docks, boats, and smelly fishmonger’s stalls. Minhaven’s shoreline was very different—rocky and treacherous, with only a few small docks and no harbor. Getting supplies and people back and forth by boat was difficult, even when the weather was calm.

But the sea’s fearsome beauty was captivating. Powerful waves continuously crashed against the rocks, sending plumes of spray far up into the air. When the tide went out, it left shallow pools behind, full of glistening seaweed, twists of driftwood, shells, and sometimes fish. Those who dared to brave the frigid waters would sometimes wade out and catch them with nets. One had to be careful not to get caught too far from shore when the tide returned, for fear of getting stranded and swept out to sea.

Elowyn came here when she most needed time for quiet reflection. The rhythmic pulse of the waves and the lonely calls of the sea birds were mesmerizing. When she allowed her churning thoughts to ebb away with the retreating sea, she usually found treasures in the calm that was left behind; moments of clarity that she gathered as speedily as she could before the dark waters of uncertainty reclaimed them.

MEET ANCIENT VOICES: INTO THE DEPTHS’ CHARACTERS

Today is Tell a Story Day!

Though it would seem this day was made just for writers, you don’t have to be an author to tell a good story. The idea behind this day is to get people to tell, and listen to, each others stories, fiction or non-fiction, history or mythology. Everyone’s stories are unique. What are yours to tell?

In honor of the day, and just for fun, I’m sharing an old tale from my book world’s history. It is one that might have been re-told around the fire in Morganne and Elowyn’s generation, while the listeners wondered if it was real, or merely legend…or maybe a mixture of both. Enjoy!


snowy pathDelevan’s cheeks stung as he lifted his face to the first icy pinpricks of snow.  The harsh mountain wind forced its way down the hood of his cloak, making his lungs gasp with shock and his whole body shiver.  Its bitter edge had caught him by surprise.  He quickly looked down again, pulled his cloak more tightly around him, and quickened his step.  He knew he must get to the monastery before nightfall or suffer a freezing night out in this wilderness.

As he climbed, higher and higher along the twisting road, Delevan tried to warm his heart with thoughts of home.  Closing his eyes for one blissful moment, his vision danced with the sway of lush meadows and farmers’ fields bursting with ripened grain.  Harvest time was almost here.  The familiar sights and sounds of his home village brought a smile to his lips that faded all too quickly.  Despite his efforts to push them away, other thoughts surfaced with them, darkening his pleasant memory.  The rasp of bat-like wings in the dark…sudden bursts of flame…a barbed serpent’s tail crushing thick stone walls to rubble and dust.  The wyverns had come, from where no one could say.  All Delevan knew was that those beautiful fields of grain had been consumed by fire, and it was too late in the season to replant them.  His idyllic home, nestled into the green valley below the mountains, would never be the same.

That was how he had come to find himself heading alone into the cold northern mountains, whose white peaks had previously been nothing but a distant wonder.  Beneath his cloak, Delevan clutched a satchel protectively against his pounding chest.  Through its slightly opened neck he could smell the strong musk of ancient leather and parchment…a continuous reminder of his mission, and his duty.  The monks of his village had entrusted him with the only thing of value they had salvaged from the wreckage of the wyvern attack—an old tome of wisdom, scribed hundreds of years ago and carefully passed down through many generations.  It was one of humanity’s irreplaceable treasures, and he had been charged to deliver it to the monastery in the mountains for safekeeping.

The snow was falling more heavily now, sticking to his cloak and eyelashes, and draping the limbs of the trees with a web of intricate lace.  He struggled to keep up his quick pace on the slick road, but his resolve was still strong.  Out of the corner of his eye, he thought he detected a shadowy movement in the thick of the trees.  He peered anxiously into their depths.  Nothing was there.  He tried to calm himself, but remained alert, glancing about as he walked.  Something didn’t feel quite right.  The monks had warned him that the frigid temperatures and the hazardous terrain were not the only dangers he might face.  He had not given their warning much thought at the time, but now wished he had paid better attention.  Again, he sensed a quick, stealthy movement, above his head this time.  He drew his gaze upward into the sky.  Were the wyverns stalking him? They usually cloaked themselves in the dark of night, spreading unimaginable fear and chaos.  If not the wyverns, what was following him?  His stomach sickened and his mouth went dry.  Perhaps making this journey was a mistake.  Was he really risking his life over a book?

The sense that he was being followed increased with each step.  Delevan was convinced that he saw shadows between the trees and passing overhead, but each time he turned to get a true look, he saw nothing but the blinding whiteness of the snow.  Cold though he was, his brow began to drip with sweat and he had to restrain himself from breaking into a run.  One bad slip could easily send him down the side of the mountain to his death.  A low hissing sound brushed past his ear, sending a chill through his soul that was colder than any mountain wind.  He had not imagined it.  The dark shadows taunting him did indeed belong to something real, and that something was pursuing him.  Oh please, Aviad, he prayed silently. If you can hear me at all, protect me from this fear that would devour me.  He wasn’t certain if his plea had been heard, but he continued onward with trembling legs.

The wind turned colder than Delevan had ever imagined was possible, penetrating even his fur lined cloak, and driving the snow into his numb face without mercy.  He wanted so much to stop and rest, but dared not.  He nibbled on some hard cheese and drank from his waterskin while he walked.  Though his physical trials had not relented, at least for the moment there were no more shadows.   Delevan began to think again of home.  He had never been so far away before.  His neighbors would all be working hard to clear away the rubble, rebuilding their world stone by stone.  Should he not be there helping them?  Guilt weighed heavy on his heart. For the first time he stopped, turning to look down the road from where he had come.  His desire for home grew so strong that he could hardly bear it.  There were a hundred reasons why he should return, and so few to compel him forward.  His longing was almost a tangible presence in his mind, urging him, pressing him…assuring him that no one would think less of him for abandoning such a treacherous journey.  But deep down, he knew that voice was false, and that he should fight against it.  The shadows had returned, this time lurking not amongst the trees, but in the dark places of his mind.

Perhaps this quest was not simply about saving a single book.  Protecting the tomes of wisdom was one way in which men sought to preserve their past and secure their future.  Delevan’s village was not the only one to face calamity in recent years.  Other parts of the realm had been decimated by wars, famine, and disease.  Shrines and monasteries were being razed by dark armies of terrifying creatures, their master a being of such evil no one dared to speak his name.  His purpose was the complete destruction of humanity, body and spirit, and he pursued the tomes so that he might extinguish the light of hope they brought to men’s hearts.  That was the enemy who pursued Delevan now, he was sure of it.  His heart fell.  He turned his face to the heavens in his despair.  What chance have I against such a powerful foe? Words of comfort filled his mind, but there were words of warning as well.  His trials were not at an end, and he must brace himself against them.

Swallowing hard, Delevan began walking again, but not toward home.  The skies suddenly opened up as if to tell him that he had made the wrong choice.  The snowfall was so heavy he could barely see where he was going.  Layer upon layer, the road and mountainsides were being covered by a thick wet blanket that clung to his boots, weighing them down.  Delevan gritted his teeth and pushed onward, testing the strength of his will.  He closed his eyes and imagined it was spring.  There was no time for rest, no room for complaint, though every muscle ached and his hands were sore with opened blisters.  The warmth of the sun would not wait to do its work, and the seeds must be planted.  Delevan’s hands were on the plow, his back bent against the hard brown earth that must be broken up for planting.   The snow was no match against that.

For hours he continued along a seemingly endless path of white, twisting upward into the sky.  Delevan’s stride weakened and he began to wonder how much farther he could push himself.  Yet he knew he must, or he would surely die in this blinding storm.  More than once his footing stumbled on hidden stones and branches, or slid on patches of ice.  Not a single soul passed him on the road, nor had he seen any homes, or distant plumes of smoke to offer him hope.  If he collapsed into a snow bank, who would ever find him?  The monks had told him that the road ended at the monastery, but they had not told him how long the road would be.  Perhaps the shadows had stopped pursuing him because they knew he would never make it.

Delevan’s limbs were dangerously cold.  He could barely feel his fingers, even though he wore thick, protective gloves.  His toes burned, and a fearful expression was frozen onto his raw, sore face.  His legs only continued to move because he forced them to.  Worst of all, daylight was beginning to wane.  Delevan had ceased to care about his oath or the tome.  Had he means to make a fire, he would have gladly burned its pages just to warm himself for but a few moments.  His remaining determination was focused on survival alone—the shadow pursuing him now was death.

He began to wonder what it felt like to freeze to death…would it be more painful than his present torture?  Or would it be like slowly falling into a cold, dreamless sleep?  He was close to giving into his despondency when he thought he saw firelight ahead.  He stumbled forward, nearly falling face first into the snow in his haste.  At last, there was a small village.  Tears swelled in his eyes as he took in the tiny cluster of humble homes, and the delicious scent of burning hearth fires hanging on the air.  He ran up to the first house and knocked heartily on the door.  No one answered.  Desperate, he knocked again, harder this time.  Still nothing.  He went to the next house, and the next with the same result.  Finally he approached the last house, his only hope for shelter from the elements.  He knocked, his heart fairly breaking when the door remained closed.  What sort of strange place was this?  Where was everyone?

He pounded hard on the door in a moment of frustration.  The door, apparently not securely latched, opened on its own.  Delevan called out one last time before peering inside.  There he saw everything he had been dreaming of.  A thick fur rug was spread before the hearth, which boasted a roaring fire that popped and hissed invitingly.  Off to the side was a table heaped with breads, cheeses, meat pies, and dried fruits.  He began to peel off his wet things in front of the fire, then fell upon the food as a wild beast might, devouring handfuls of it so rapidly he barely had time to taste it.  He hoped whoever lived here would forgive his desperation.  When his stomach was full, he spread out on the soft rug and let the fire’s heat soothe his tired body.  His eyelids were heavy with sleep.  He would reach the monks tomorrow—surely they would understand the delay.  But Delevan’s mind would not let him rest.  Deep within his heart, he knew something was terribly wrong.  The monks had not said anything about a village along the way, let alone an empty one with a ready fire and fresh food just sitting out for the taking.  But the thought of putting back on his wet cloak and boots…going back out into the driving snow with evening soon descending…left him feeling completely defeated.  He had finally reached the end of his will and his strength.  Please, Aviad, help me one last time, for I cannot finish this quest on my own.

Delevan began to hear voices, muffled and distant.  Finally there was someone who might be able to help.  He strained his ears, and gradually the voices came into focus.

“I saw him coming up the road when I went up into the bell tower to call for evening prayer.  Just before he reached the gates he stopped, fell to his knees in the snow, and didn’t move…just stared.”

“Will he be all right?” another voice asked with genuine concern.

“His body is still warm enough—I’ve seen worse.  Take off his wet things, and get him a blanket.”

“He carries one of the tomes with him,” exclaimed yet another.  “I suspect that the worst of his hardships had little to do with the weather.”

Suddenly the illusion clouding Delevan’s vision peeled away, and he realized that he was sitting before a warm fire, not in an empty house, but at the monastery surrounded by three kindly looking monks.  He had reached his destination after all.  The shadows had preyed on his desires, leaving him to freeze to death on the very threshold of the monastery.  Through chattering teeth, he thanked the monks for saving his life and handed over the tome, relieved to be rid of it.

“Such a dangerous journey to make alone.  Did you not bring any companions?” one monk asked.

“I had no companions,” he replied thoughtfully. “But even through the darkest moments of my journey, I was never really alone.”

Sneak Peek Friday

JourneytoAviadThis week’s “sneak peek” is actually a “meet the characters” post that was featured on the Read Tuesday blog.  The voice is Morganne’s from Journey to Aviad as she both reflects back, and looks forward into an uncertain future.  Enjoy!

Journey to Aviad is now permafree as an ebook. So if you haven’t read it yet, what’s holding you back?
Amazon     Barnes and Noble     Smashwords


It was a hard beginning, growing up in Tyroc. The city covers evils of all types, as a fresh snow covers a dung heap; pungent and waiting to trap the unsuspecting foot. Only its exterior is shrouded in white, the pretense of innocence. In the city, none care to look beyond the surface, for the hidden darkness is too overwhelming for one soul to carry. The city trapped me, trapped all of us…and my mother knew it. I lost the innocence of my youth at the sharp edge of her cruelty before I finally made my escape, while those who knew my suffering simply looked away.

Some memories fade slowly, until they are only wisps of smoke that dissipate into nothing when you try to catch hold of them. Others stay with you, like the details of a recurring nightmare. A smell, a sound, a flash of light can catch you off guard and take you back to that place you wish you could forget. There are nights when I close my eyes and I can see the tiny one room cottage my mother, my younger sisters, and I once lived in. So many years have passed that it is probably long gone now. But in my mind it continues to stand, just as it was when I was a girl; the smooth, cold gray stones of the floor…the wood beams of the roof, stained black from the hearth fire. A trestle table, some stools, and my mother’s loom were the only furniture.

My mother would sit there for hours on end, her light brown hair swept up away from her face, her fingers working with forceful precision. The curve of her back shut us out as she embraced a world of her own design, carefully constructed of hand-spun threads. Anyone who pulled her away from it was met with a ferocity that betrayed the seething anger consuming her soul. And so my sisters and I spent our days treading carefully around her, trying not to break the dreadful silence.

I remember, too, the small fingerprints that dotted the walls. Most of them belonged to my sister, Elowyn, who only seemed happy when she was covered in dirt from the surrounding woodlands. She often disappeared for days out there. Mother barely noticed, but my stomach always churned with worry over what might become of her. Somehow she always returned, carrying one small treasure or another. Her whole being glowed with a peaceful contentment that I envied at times. There was certainly none to be found at home.

Then one day Elowyn returned with an unusual object—a coin it seemed. But it was old, with markings that made me wonder about its origins. Our lives changed that day, though I had yet to realize it. It was a change that brought adventure into our dreary existence; and with it both danger and the joys of freedom. More than just our lives, the whole world began to change. History, legend, and prophecy were becoming real before our eyes, leaving us at the mercy of an impending storm no one could stop. We had a choice; to believe in Aviad’s truth and join in the fight to save our world, or to do nothing and let the growing darkness swallow us whole.

I will not tell you what we chose, though you can probably guess. Our story is not here on this page—it has been written elsewhere, and by a more masterful scholar and scribe than I shall ever be. But I hope that through those writings you will join us as we make our journey of hope, of courage…sometimes of pain and despair…but always with faith. Where it shall end, even I do not yet know.

– Morganne

 

MEET JOURNEY TO AVIAD’S CHARACTERS

A Bard’s Tale

This week, instead of an excerpt, I’m sharing my short story, “A Bard’s Tale,” from the Dragon Tempest anthology.

This short story connects to my Wind Rider Chronicles series, following one of the adventures of Broguean the Bard from Ancient Voices.  This is the first time it has been released outside of the anthology.  More of my related short stories can be found in The Dragon Tempest anthology, and The Magical Muse anthology.

Enjoy!


The sun was making its journey toward evening as Broguean the Bard entered the small town of Westfalle.  Its familiar sights and sounds brought some bounce back into his weary step, and he rubbed his stiff, cold hands together vigorously in anticipation.  Lorne, the local tavern keeper, was well known for making a fine brew, even if his manner was…to say the least…a bit gruff.   Armed with his lute, pipe, and a litany of songs and tales, Broguean was looking forward to a spending a boisterous evening quenching his legendary thirst.  His spirits were bright when he finally saw the signboard for the tavern swaying gently in the wind, blazoned with an image of an old wooden mug.  Broguean grinned knowingly.  It had been some time since his travels had brought him to Westfalle.  It almost felt like coming home.

Before he reached the threshold, the heavy wooden tavern door creaked open and a man came flying out as if someone had scooped him up and tossed him like a bucket of dirty dishwater.  Quickly following was a wooden cup, split and chipped along the rim, and the resounding slam of the door.  The cup knocked the man in the head and he uttered a pained expletive in response.

Broguean gave a raspy chuckle as he helped the dazed man to his feet.  “You know you’ve had a satisfying night of carousing when Lorne gives you the old heave-ho.  But I must know, what in glory did you do to get booted before the sun has even set?”  Perhaps there’s a good story here to add to my collection, he thought.

The man clung to Broguean’s arm to steady himself.  His watery eyes lacked focus, and Broguean wasn’t sure, but from the state of the man’s clothes and hair, it was quite possible he’d still been there from the night before.  The man puffed up his reddened cheeks, blowing out a gust of pungent air as his mind slowly tried to form a coherent response.

“Hey now, keep that to yourself,” Broguean said turning his head away.  “If I’m going to succumb to the effects of Lorne’s brew tonight, I’d prefer to do so by actually drinking it.”

“Alas, it was one of the bar maids,” the man whispered loudly with widened eyes.  “A new one—never seen her here before today.  Beautiful vision of a girl as I have ever seen, with soft brown hair and eyes like the sea…” he trailed off as his thoughts became lost in memory.  Broguean jostled him impatiently, still hoping for a good story. “And?”

The man looked about with a mixture of alarm and guilt, whispering even louder.  “Turns out she’s Lorne’s daughter.”  Broguean stifled an amused laugh.

“Aye friend, it is always wise to steer clear of any tavern keeper’s daughter, but especially Lorne’s.  Off you go now before he sees you’re still here—you’re lucky he only threw that mug after you.  Can you make it home on your own?”  The man nodded and stumbled his way down the cobbled street, humming loudly to himself.

With a grin, Broguean picked up the broken cup still lying on the ground and cheerfully swung open the tavern door.  The place was still mostly empty, but Broguean knew that would soon change.  Lorne was standing at the bar to the left, forcefully washing and drying a stack of dirty mugs.  Wild white hair framed an angular face, with a strong jaw, bulbous nose, and thick, unruly eyebrows that were shaped into a frown.   Lorne was obviously in a sore mood, but Broguean didn’t mind.  It was all part of his charm.  Helping him wash mugs was a young woman with pasty blue eyes and limp brown hair, half pulled back into a slightly stained head covering that had begun to fray at the edges.  This must be the daughter who had caused all the commotion.  She had the same bulbous nose and untamed eyebrows as her father.  Oh well, Broguean thought to himself, if I get tossed out tonight, at least it won’t be on the same offense.

The shelf next to Lorne was lined with a row of old broken mugs, only good for assaulting disgraced patrons.   Broguean slid the broken cup in his hand onto the counter along with enough money to pay for his first drink.  If the night went as well as he hoped, it would be the only drink he’d pay for.

“Mind yourself, or that old cup will find your head next,” Lorne said crossly.

“Oh, come now,” Broguean mocked a hurt tone. “You know me well enough.”

“Aye, that’s the point.”

“Honest to the Ancients, I’ll bring you no trouble tonight,” he said sincerely.

Broguean took a quiet table in the corner where he could scout the room as it gradually began to fill with people, some more amusing to watch than others.  There were those who came for serious drinking, with no interest in making merry while they did it.  Sad and boring, thought Broguean.  Some came to drink with their friends or lovers, comfortable and familiar, while others were there to seek new ones somewhat more exciting. The gamblers were the ones to watch, because one never knew what to expect.  Big winners tended to be generous to both bards and bar maids that’s more like it, but big losers were prone to violent outbursts, particularly if they had been cheated entertaining…from a distance.  Then there were the travelers, like himself.   A mixed bag of characters—warriors, merchants, nobles, monks, and rogues, most seeking companionship, even if only with their mug of brew.  Broguean played for them all.  He quickly downed his first drink and signaled for another.  Pulling out his lute, he began to strum a common melody, just to warm up the room before deciding on a song suitable for the present crowd.

But before he had gotten very far, a familiar face came through the door; a monk named Sefton who Broguean knew from his own region.  His unexpected presence brought bitter-sweet memories to mind—they’d once been brothers of the same order, until… Broguean closed off his thoughts with the finality of a prison cell door clanging shut.  That was all in the past now.  Broguean had given up that life, though not his faith in the Ancients, or the kinship he had shared with some of his brethren.  He took a long draught from his fresh mug of ale, finding comfort in the soothing warmth of its effects.  Despite all that had happened, he brightened at the thought of sharing a drink with Sefton and perhaps some tales from home.  However, Sefton avoided his gaze and took a seat on the opposite side of the room.

“Well, how do you like that—not so much as a wave or a nod,” Broguean mumbled to himself in an offended tone.  Sefton was usually a jovial man, but today his expression seemed weary and agitated.  Broguean rarely bought drinks for himself, let alone others, but perhaps this was an occasion to make an exception.  Once again, he raised his empty glass to signal that he wanted more and waited.

The tavern door swung open again and Broguean suddenly understood Sefton’s mood…he was being followed by an unsavory looking man in a gray cloak.  The man’s face lacked expression, but his left hand sported a black ring, and a black serrated dagger hung from his belt.  No doubt he was from the nefarious Order of the Shadow, a group of men who claimed to be monks, but who in truth worshipped the darkness and the evil that governs it.  Dealings with such men rarely ended well.  They were ruthless, brutal, and relentless in their pursuits.  Beyond the notice of the general population, a silent battle was ever taking place.  For hundreds of years, the dark order had attempted to destroy or bury humanity’s most powerful spiritual tomes and relics.  Monks such as Sefton had dedicated their lives to reclaiming them, usually at great personal peril.

So much for frivolity and maidens, and his promise to Lorne.   Broguean had turned away from the monastic life, but he had not forgotten his oaths.  Helping Sefton in his fight against the dark order was one he was glad to fulfill.

One of the bar maids came over to refill his mug.

“Best water it down a bit this time,” he said with a disappointed sigh.  “I’m going to need my wits about me.  Oh, and give my deepest apologies to Lorne.  I really tried,” he said with a boyish grin.

He cleared his throat and struck an upbeat tune, walking out into the middle of the room.  One of his many perfected and practiced songs would not do—this one would have to be improvised for the moment.

“Let the night grow dark and cold as a cavern,
while we gather here in the warmth of Lorne’s tavern…”

Lorne looked up and gave him a warning glare.  Undaunted, Broguean continued.

“Our daily labors are finally at an end,
there’s no better time to sit with a friend…
‘Tis a fine time for a drink!”

Several of the men who’d already had a few too many cheered in response and raised their cups.  The man in the gray cloak remained expressionless, his cold eyes still taking in Sefton’s every move.

Broguean moved near to a table of men who had been trying to best each other with tales of glory all evening.

“Quarreling warriors, so honor bound,
glorious tales of their exploits resound.
Red blood sprayed on their tunics fine,
oh wait, ‘tis not blood, but only wine!
‘Tis a fine time for a drink…and a fight!”

One of the warriors chuckled, while another turned red and looked offended.  Again, Lorne glared at Broguean, who quickly took a swig from his mug and danced over to the next table.

“Spring is here and it’s time for love,
with a bit of help from the Ancients above.
The merchant’s chasing the girl in red,
but she’s got her eye on the noble instead!
‘Tis a fine time for a drink…and a fight, and for love!”

The merchant seemed disappointed, but the surprised noble glanced up at the girl in red who smiled and winked at him.  The man in the gray cloak relaxed his focus on Sefton, who seemed to be rooted in his seat, as the energy of the room picked up and all eyes were drawn to Broguean’s antics.

“Take a chance and roll the dice,
gambling’s such a treacherous vice.
If you dare to play, have plenty of pluck,
buy the bard a drink to change your luck!
‘Tis a fine time for a drink…and a fight, and for love, and for luck!”

There was laughter all around and several drinks were left on Broguean’s table—even the serious drinkers turned a weak smile.  All but the man in the gray cloak, who sat stone-faced as ever, and Sefton, whose grim expression persisted.  Don’t worry, my friend, it won’t be long now.  You well know what to do…and so do I.

Broguean merrily made his way over to the man in the gray cloak, pretending to be oblivious of his intentions.  The man’s dark, soulless eyes sent a chill straight to Broguean’s bones, but he dared not do anything that would betray his feelings.  He smiled and danced about, seemingly without a care.  No doubt everyone in the room thought him a drunken fool—it would not be the first time.  His reputation had been well crafted over the years.  Little did they know, he now played a game far more treacherous than any that required dice.  Sefton’s life, and perhaps his own, were hanging by the stings of his lute.

“A weary traveler seeks rest from the road,
who surely has tales that he’d like to unload.
Stories of beasts or of men on the brink,
if you can add to my song I will buy you a drink…”

All eyes were on the stranger as Broguean strummed an expectant refrain.  Others were calling for him to meet the bard’s challenge and come up with a verse.  Finally released from his stalker’s constant gaze, Sefton moved swiftly from his seat over to the bar.

“Come now,” Broguean chided, purposely moving to block the man’s view of Sefton. “One line in exchange for the finest brew on the western shore.  Surely you can give us just one line…it doesn’t even have to rhyme,” Broguean smirked and tapped his foot to the music. Despite encouragement from the crowd, the man said nothing, his lips pressed tersely together in a thin immovable line.  Beneath his placid exterior he was seething.  Best not push him too far, or I’ll end up with that black dagger in my belly…probably laced with poison, too.

“No then?  Oh well…‘tis still a fine time for a drink…and a fight, and for love, and for luck, and a song!” The room cheered as his finished out the melody.  Now for the big finish.

Broguean took a deep breath and gulped down several large mouthfuls of ale before picking up his instrument again.  He meandered over to the bar, saying nothing to Sefton, but giving him a knowing glance.  With a sigh and a grimace he hoped didn’t show, he set down an empty mug in front of Lorne’s daughter and gazed directly into her eyes.  Only for love of the Ancients…

“Oh, I met a beautiful maiden, fair and noble to enjoy,
with lovely blue eyes, large and good,
and hair silky brown beneath her hood.
Her cheek shines alight, like a lantern by night,
radiant in her chamber.

“She has a lovely neck to embrace,
with arms, shoulders soft as lace,
and fingers fair to clasp.
A damsel so fair and fine, would the Ancients she were mine…”

Lorne’s daughter blushed deep crimson.  An angry snarl came from across the bar, quickly followed by a shock of wild white hair and the strongest pair of hands Broguean had ever known.  Before he quite knew what had happened, he had been tossed out of the tavern onto the cobbled street.  As the door slammed shut with a bang, a cracked wooden mug came flying directly at his head.  With a raised arm he deflected the blow, then picked himself up off the ground and attempted to gather his dignity.  That’s not nearly so fun when I’m sober, he mused.  Now to see if it was all worthwhile.

Broguean picked up the broken mug, and smiled.  Good old Lorne. I knew he’d come through.  Tucked inside was an object wrapped in heavy cloth.  He quickly peeked inside the wrappings, and what he saw took his breath away.  Sefton, my good man, how in glory did you get hold of this?  It was a curved piece of silver, highly ornamented, bearing the crest of Varol, the most venerated hero in all of history.  This had once been fitted to the front of a famous staff, a highly powerful relic that had been carried by Varol’s descendants for generations.  Its loss to the ages had been bitterly mourned ever since. Broguean had seen many images of the staff in old tomes, and on paintings and mosaics.  He had no idea how much power it might still hold, but the staff’s ability to decimate the dark armies was legendary.  Tarnished and time-battered though it was, this was an amazing treasure to reclaim.  He now understood why both Sefton and the man in the gray cloak wanted it so badly.

Broguean quickly wrapped up the relic and tucked it away safe under his shirt.  He set the broken cup on the tavern threshold and gave a respectful bow before making his way down the cobbled street, humming loudly to himself.  His step was still weary, but his spirits were bright as ever.  There was an abbey one town over that would be glad to keep this treasure safe until it could be moved to its proper home.  Isn’t it the merriest jest in the world that old Gray-cloak is still sitting there watching Sefton drink away the night?  All the while, his prize is slipping away under a glowing crescent moon and a sky full of radiant stars.  Hey, there’s the makings of a good song in that!  Speaking of radiant, I sure hope Lorne doesn’t actually think that I wanted his daughter!  He really does have the best brew around…and after tonight, Sefton owes me a few.

.

 


 

The Magical Muse 72THE MAGICAL MUSE

A Collection of Fantasy Stories

Stories of fantasy ranging from dark, to light and inspiring, bring life to this anthology.  The creatures featured throughout, both good and evil, display the devastating or wonderful personalities they were given by the authors who created them for your enjoyment.

Featuring My Short Story: “The Hounds of Alazoth”

Mythological hounds are a foreshadowing of doom for one man seeking refuge from their deadly chase. Allison D. Reid brings a tale of adventure as seen through the eyes of the hounds and their mysterious master, born from the darkness of hell.

Amazon     BN     Smashwords     Createspace

 

The Dragon TempestTHE DRAGON TEMPEST

Tales of Fantasy and Adventure

The Dragon Tempest offers a collection of short stories in a variety of fantasy genres, including dark, light, adventure, and epic. Creatures from all worlds abound: dragons, angels, centaurs, witches, gods and goddesses, and those lurking below the water’s surface. Whether you’re moved by tales of battle and bloodshed, suspense, humor, or enlightenment, The Dragon Tempest will leave you craving more from each author. Such a diversity of great fantasy tales to enjoy will leave no room for disappointment.

Featuring My Short Story: “A Bard’s Tale”

A rogue bard seeks rest from the road at a favorite tavern. Seeking a night of merriment and free ale, he finds instead an unexpected danger…and an old friend. Can a tune and a little cunning save them both?

Featuring My Other Short Story: “Birth of the Necromancer”

Alazoth and his hounds strike terror into the hearts of men. Passed down through the generations is a chilling myth about the origins of his son. Who has this child of evil grown up to be?

Amazon     BN     Smashwords     Createspace