From December 25th through the 29th you can enjoy Book One and Book Two in the Scepter of Maris series for FREE. Happy reading!
From December 25th through the 29th you can enjoy Book One and Book Two in the Scepter of Maris series for FREE. Happy reading!
Well, it’s finally finished. Book 2 is officially available on Amazon for the Kindle, and it is called “An Adept’s Duty“. It took a lot longer than the first one, but there was more going on in the story and I had to make sure it all meshed. I feel that it turned out well, and I hope everyone reading it feels the same. The cover is temporary, and there will eventually be a paperback version available, but for now I hope you enjoy it. I’m going to take a short break from the series, and then dive right back in. Maybe I can get book 3 out in a more timely fashion.
As part of the countdown for book 2, I thought I would offer the first book for a reduced price. For the next two weeks ‘A Soldier’s Honor’ will available for $0.99 on the Kindle. I should get the book back from the proofreader soon, and I will get right to editing out the mistakes. If all goes as anticipated, the book should be available by the 28th… ish. I do not think there will be any problem with publishing by then, but you never know. In the meantime, I would appreciate any help in getting the word out. Happy reading!
It’s getting down to the wire now, and so I thought I would share another chapter as I get closer to the finish. Just a few more chapters to go, and book 2 will be done. Please note that this is just a draft, and it has not been proofread.
Pompous windbag. Dhuren had tried to be more politic in the past when it came to Pardis, but the noble just had a way of making him feel as if he needed to wash every time he had to spend even a single moment in the man’s presence. Watching him speak to the King brought to mind one of the toads found in the deeper caves. As soon as it sensed itself being watched, it bloated to about twice its normal size and then let out an eerie moan as it deflated. While the toad’s act was for defense, Pardis liked attention. The nobles fat jowls, shiny and flapping, stretched as he drew in breath and Dhuren had to force the laughter back down.
Pardis was once more droning into Leonar’s ear about the need to fortify their position due to the increased Orc activity. He believed that they should be drawing back, pulling all of their people in closer and leaving the surface to sort its own problems out.
Dhuren wished for nothing more at that moment than to join Fastil, Brody, and Woodard as they toured the drinking establishments of the city. Sometimes he hated being the responsible one.
A slight scuffing sound brought Dhuren’s attention to the Human at his side. A glance at Meric, who was standing next to a serene Lady Alyssa, and he could see the worry plain in his face. He could understand, but did not really share in the feeling. He had been dealing with this issue since the beginning of the last Human war with the Orcs. At this point, Pardis was in the minority. While the bilious dwarf was a powerful noble, and did have a bit of sway with some of the more influential Houses, the commoners were becoming restless and more of the noble families were starting to share that sentiment every month.
The king did have the final say, and would do what he thought was best for his people, but part of making his decisions had always included heeding the voice of all of his subjects. Remaining in hiding might be the safest route to take, but most Dwarves have never been comfortable with running from their troubles. Safe did not always equate to best. They were forced into hiding all of those centuries ago rather than be devastated beyond any ability to recover, but things were different now. They had been able to rebuild their population a good bit, and would also have the benefit of allying themselves with the humans. Most of all, his people were tired of cowering in the dark as the world passed them by. Dwarves were fighters, they could smell a brawl coming, and they did not want to miss out this time.
Dhuren watched as Leonar closed his eyes and took a calming breath. Biting back a chuckle, he cleared his throat loudly and interrupted Pardis, stepping forward and speaking to the king.
“Your Majesty? If I may… I would like to request a private audience.”
Both Dhuren and Leonar ignored Pardis’ spluttering and the grumbling of some of the nobles present, eyeing each other before the king spoke.
“This would have to do with your guests, I presume?” Leonar could not fully hide the relief at having an excuse to dismiss the others, especially Pardis.
Before Dhuren could answer, the blustering Dwarf jumped in.
“Sire, really? This is uncalled for. This… rudeness is just another example of-”
“Careful, Pardis. You are in danger of insulting a member of the Royal Family.” The King’s rebuke was soft, but the fact that he felt the need to speak was enough to make Pardis sweat. A hush fell over the gathering of nobles present. Leonar was one of the most even tempered King’s in recent memory, but he was notoriously protective of family. And while he was generally very fair in not playing favorites, Dhuren and Fastil had been his best friends all of his life.
“Forgive me, Your Majesty. I meant no disrespect.” No one in the room believed that statement, not even the Humans. “I was simply trying to remind Lord Dhuren that there is already a scheduled session in progress.”
Pardis’ could not entirely hide the disdain aimed at Dhuren when he spoke, but the king gave the appearance of not noticing.
“Which has been filled with nothing that has not already been discussed numerous times. Dhuren, bring your guests to my office.” Leonar was already rising from his chair, effectively ending any further discussion.
At Meric’s questioning glance, Dhuren cocked his head in a gesture for the Humans to follow him. The King led them through a door at the back of the council chamber, across the thickly carpeted hall, and into another room. Dhuren let Meric and Alyssa enter before him, and then closed the heavy wooden door once he was inside. When he turned back to the room it was just in time to see the king settle into his heavily padded chair near the blazing fireplace, with a weary sigh.
“What ever evil being decreed that it was necessary for all official chairs to be made as uncomfortable as possible should have been tossed into the Beshtir Trench.”
Dhuren grinned at his cousin, hearing the familiar refrain that was generally part of an inside joke between them. If they were alone, he would now be making a comment about the Dwarf’s age and what all of the throne sitting was doing to his posterior.
Instead, he just got straight to the point, knowing his cousin would not mind.
“Your Majesty… I would like to present to you Lady Alyssa Camden, Ambassador of the Kingdom of Glendon. She is a true Lady, a capable warrior, and an adept in the Arcane Arts. Her companion, Meric Vettor. A distinguished commander in the last Human war with the Orcs, of which you should be familiar from my reports of that time. He is an honorable man, and someone I call a true friend.”
“Then you are also a friend to me. Welcome Lady Camden, Commander Vettor, and please consider yourselves and your friends honored guests of the Royal Family.”
“Thank you, Your Majesty. I can assure you, Lord Dhuren has been a most gracious host already.” Alyssa gave a short bow as she replied.
“So…” Leonar gestured to the two empty chairs and a couch capable of seating two, situated in an arc in front of the blazing hearth. There was a small table next to the king that held an ale pitcher, but it was left alone as Leonar looked at them expectantly.
Dhuren noted Meric and Alyssa choosing the couch (which, unsurprisingly, happened to be of an appropriate size to be comfortable to a Human) as he took his time settling in the chair next to his cousin, searching for just the right words. He had spoken with Leonar many times about the issue of returning to the surface, so he was not too worried about broaching that subject. He was certain that the king had already decided to put that plan into effect, or else why would he have allowed Dhuren to intervene when the humans became trapped by a large group of Orcs? The issue of the Scepter was another matter all together, though. While he knew that Leonar was of like mind about their ancestor’s mistake in taking the relic, he was unsure how the request to entrust its location to someone not of the Dwarven race would be received. Private discussions between cousins over mead were not the same thing as asking the King to hand over an immensely powerful artifact capable of otherworldly destruction.
“We all know that the Orcs are becoming more active. We know that they have crossed the mountains in small groups, and entered the Kingdom of Rennick. What I have recently learned from my friends here, is that they have been passing through Rennick undetected and are entering Glendon. We do not know their exact plans, but we do know that they are actively trying to antagonize Glendon into hostilities with them. An attempt was made on the lives of Roderick Marten’s two children.”
Dhuren did not need to let that sink in for too long. He had barely finished speaking before he could see the flash of anger mixed with grief overcome his cousin’s face. Sadly, Leonar knew all to well the pain Roderick and his wife would have felt if that attempt had been successful. The King’s first-born son had been killed in one noble house’s plot to bring down another, several years ago. Fortunately, the treachery had been discovered and a civil war averted, but not before it was too late for young Venaris. Fastil had been the one to undertake the investigation, and their cousin had been thorough and violent. Dhuren’s fun-loving best friend had completely disappeared and an implacable, vengeful, outraged warrior had taken his place. Being such a close family, they had all felt the loss, and none of them were the same after. As much as Dhuren would like to think that Dwarves were an enlightened people, above the petty squabbles of the other races, the sad truth was that they were just as susceptible to the same flaws.
“They planned to ensure that there was no doubt who was responsible, and intended to draw Glendon’s attention to the north and a possible invasion. There is some evidence, though it is not conclusive, that Rennick might be involved in some way. King Marten of Glendon has sent Lady Camden and her companions to ask for our aid. Any help we can offer will be appreciated, but they have a specific request that I thought best be made in private.
“You know the Orc obsession with the Scepter. We believe that they have uncovered information of its whereabouts, or at the least, they believe they have. The clans are uniting, and they are not going to stop this time until the relic is once more in their control. Marten is asking for the location of the Scepter, and any information they might need to retrieve it. He feels that it is better if the Orcs are not the ones to find it. They certainly will not just go quietly back home once it is in their control.”
Dhuren held up his hand at Leonar’s incredulous look, forestalling any comments until he was done.
“Meric, Lady Alyssa, and I have discussed it. They realize that handing over that kind of power to near strangers would not really be an option for you. However, we thought a compromise might be open for discussion. You send a… delegation to Glendon, with the intent of opening relations between our two people. This group of envoys could entreat with the intent of coming to a formal agreement between our two nations. In this agreement we, the Dwarven Nation, would request permission to move about their lands on a mission, or missions, to retrieve items of an historic and intrinsic nature. We would, of course, agree to a mutual defense pact and trade relations as we undertake to build a lasting, equally beneficial friendship.”
Despite the seriousness of the conversation, Leonar had an amused expression on his face as he handed Dhuren one of the ales he had just finished pouring. Dhuren took a long swig and grunted appreciatively as Leonar moved to hand drinks to the others.
“That was most impressive, cousin. I should appoint you head of this new delegation after such eloquence, but I am willing to bet you have leadership of another undertaking in mind.”
Dhuren tried to look unassuming, but was sure he did not quite pull it off when he saw Leonar smirk.
“I would be honored to lead any delegation you chose, Your Majesty. However, it would only make sense for me to lead the mission that will surely benefit from coopera-”
“Oh, shut up.” Leonar leaned back in his chair and scratched at his receding hairline. Letting out a weary sigh, he leaned forward once more and looked at each of them in turn, finally settling his heavy gaze on Dhuren.
“You and I have talked about venturing from the caves on many occasions, and I do believe it is time. I think we have enough support to make this work, but I will still have trouble from Pardis and his ilk.” Leonar’s eyes were now on the fire crackling away in front of them. “I will call a session of the High Council tomorrow, announce our plans, and work to get as many of them on our side as possible. Lady Camden, I would like you to be nearby so I can call you in when I am ready. You speak for your King and can offer reassurances on his behalf. Your words bind him to agreement, correct?”
“That is correct. Though, perhaps we can discuss any reassurances that might be required, to avoid as many nasty surprises as possible. We are here asking for assistance and are prepared to make allowances for such, but I must also keep my kingdoms wellbeing in mind. We did say mutually beneficial. I am only prepared to go so far.” She looked him straight in the eye and her voice was firm, though respectful.
Whether it was because she was beginning to understand the Dwarven people, or it was just her normal personality, Dhuren could not tell yet. Either way, she could not have taken a better approach. Dwarves admire fortitude, and his cousin was the epitome of a Dwarf.
Leonar smiled at her and tipped his head in a appreciative nod. “That is all that we ask. And may I say, I believe your king has made an excellent choice for an ambassador.”
Alyssa smiled and gave the King a gracious nod.
The fierce scowl on the Dwarf’s face, as he wrestled with the deadly lizard-like beast that was easily the size of a horse, was almost life-like. The artist’s skill at sculpting was like nothing Meric had ever seen. He was examining the marble statue as he waited near the council chamber for Alyssa and Dhuren to finish. There were a few Dwarves moving up and down the hall, but most just passed through, and none gave him more than a brief glance. Nerves and a desire to get moving were making it difficult to stand still. The long, wide hallway he was in had decorative benches set several paces apart, with more examples of the craftsmanship he was currently studying standing between. Many were of Dwarves locked in combat with various creatures, including Orcs and Goblins. Some depicted lone animals, only a few of which were recognizable to him. There was even one of a human archer, though the face (mostly because of the eyes) was just a bit off somehow. Also, for some reason, the sculptor had made him very slender and had given him slightly longer, pointed ears.
His appraisal was interrupted by the council chamber’s doors swinging open. Alyssa was the first one out, and even though she had a serious expression on her face, Meric could tell from her eyes and body language that she was happy. Or at least satisfied with the outcome. Any doubt was dispelled when Dhuren followed right after her with a grin that his thick beard could not hide. One more Dwarf came out with them and then shut the door. He was, by far, the oldest Dwarf Meric had seen yet. Visible wrinkles and a snow-white beard that almost swept the ground, framed a contented visage as the elder came along with the others.
Alyssa stepped up to Meric’s side, slipping her hand into his, and turned to face the two accompanying her. He could almost feel her excitement, though she was doing a good job of hiding it from anyone observing them.
“It went well?”
Dhuren answered Meric’s question for them.
“It did. There was opposition, but no more than expected. Alyssa had most of them eating out of the palm of her hand. We will be departing tomorrow with an official delegation to meet with King Marten, and I will be taking some of my men along as well, hopefully, to join yours in procuring the Scepter.”
Meric’s glance at Alyssa showed her blushing at the compliment, but smiling as well. She squeezed his hand once and nodded at their friend.
“We were able to satisfy most of their misgivings, and it appears that a great many Dwarves are tired of hiding from the Orcs. They plan to aid us with defense against them, and getting the Scepter into safe hands.”
Meric did not even try to hide the relief he felt at this news. As difficult as the war he had fought in was, that had been only one clan with minimal reinforcements. He had not been optimistic about their chances with all, or even most of the Orc clans joining the fray. Now, with the Dwarves supporting them, they had a real chance. It was not a guarantee, nor would it be easy, but now they had real hope that they could win.
“Meric, this is Master Wovis. He is the Master Archivist for the Dwarven kingdom. He will be supplying us with the location, maps, and any other information that we might need to retrieve the Scepter of Maris.”
The old Dwarf stepped forward as Alyssa spoke his name, and clasped forearms. The grip he applied to Meric’s arm still had plenty of strength in it.
“Pleased to make your acquaintance, Commander Vettor. I look forward to delving into this mystery with Lady Camden. It has always been an area of interest to me. Now, I hate to take your lady away from you, but we have a lot of work to do if you are leaving tomorrow.” The raspy voice was so soft that Meric was just able to make it out.
Wovis turned after receiving a nod from Meric and started off down the hallway. Alyssa hurriedly brushed a kiss across his cheek, and after squeezing his hand one last time, she joined the elder Dwarf. He could hear her asking about the Archives before they were even a few paces along. Meric smiled at the retreating duo, and shook his head. He had a feeling that if things all worked out in their favor, they would be making a return trip to Doanimar and its library. He took a breath and then dismissed any thoughts of the future, and why he already assumed they would be together in it. There would be time for that kind of reflection later. He turned to find Dhuren grinning at him.
“So… you ready for a celebratory drink?”
Since I am getting close to finishing book two, I thought I would post a preview or two until it is finished. This is an unedited draft of the first chapter that has not yet been seen by my proof reader, so please keep that in mind. Also, the photo attached is not going to be the book’s cover, I just thought the post could use some color. I hope you enjoy…
Meric stared in awe. The few days he had spent in the caves at the end of the war years ago, and the week just past, could not possibly have prepared him for the view he now faced. He stood on the landing at the exit of a tunnel that had felt like it slanted downward for days. In front of him was a sight unlike anything he had ever seen.
A huge lake spread out as far as the darkness allowed him to see on his left, tapering to a head where it flowed over a cliff edge directly in front of the landing. It must have been a mile wide where it disappeared over the drop-off. To his right the cavern wall curved out of view, and he could not see through the pitch black to where it came back around. Beyond the cliff, through the mist and spray from the waterfall, a grand city could be seen.
Light shone down on the city from several glowing crystals similar to the ones Dhuren’s party carried, only of a much greater size and brightness, revealing structures of many shapes, colors, and sizes. Buildings topped with domes, spires, and arches were laid out in a precise pattern of squares. Spread throughout were lush gardens and galleries full of varied sculptures, the details of which could not quite be made out from so great a distance. Bridges spanned the tops and upper levels of many of the buildings, creating pathways to traverse the city from the outskirts all of the way to the center.
At the center of the square city a wall much like the one in Dallena surrounded a massive natural cave column that had been shaped by the Dwarves into a many storied, fortress-like structure.
“Doanimar,” Dhuren said, breaking the hush that had fallen over the group. “Birthplace of the Dwarven people. You are among a very small number of humans that have ever set foot in this place, and the only ones still alive today.”
“We are honored by the trust you have placed in us.” Meric still could not tear his eyes away from the view.
“I have never seen anything more beautiful in my life.” Alyssa’s voice was filled with wonder, and was barely audible over the roar of the falls.
When Meric finally did look away, it was to see all of his friends at the landing’s rail, equally entranced. Movement out of the corner of his eye, resolved into the rest of Dhuren’s party passing them by and heading to a bridge. This one was massive, and stretched out across the water, and down out of sight beyond the cliff in a gentle slope. They had left twenty of the original thirty Dwarves behind in the caves near Glendon over a week ago. The sturdy warriors that had accompanied them were all in good spirits, laughing and joking with each other, as they reached the final leg of their trip home.
“Come, my friend,” said Dhuren, slapping him on the back. “Let us finish this journey. We can refresh and rest at my home, and tomorrow I will seek an audience for us with King Leonar.”
The walk across the bridge was long, but the many sights and sounds made the trip seem too fast. The rails of the arching causeway were light grey marble with traces of black slashed throughout. Underfoot were slate tiles of varying sizes and colors placed to present a mosaic of different scenes depicting the origin of the Dwarven peoples. Dhuren narrated each scene as they reached them to a fascinated Alyssa.
When they passed beyond the cliff, Meric looked over the side of the rail and down into the churning black water. The large lake below spread out for miles to either side of the city; on the right it wrapped around almost to the halfway point, and on the left it became another river, hugging the edge of the city and trailing behind to fade into the darkness. There were several boats out on the lake, floating in the calmer water a good distance from the falls. Ahead of them, the bridge met the city in the center of an area that resembled any of the major ports on the surface.
They made their way down a wide street that carved a straight path to the center of the city, each of his friends craning their necks this way and that, trying to take in as much as possible. The layout combined with the diverse architecture was chaotic, yet it still felt structured. Meric could not explain it any better than that. Everything appeared sturdy, solid. Even the walls and fences around the parks, gardens, and residences looked able to withstand an assault.
Many Dwarves were out and about, most stopping to stare at the group as they passed. Some appeared to be socializing, some running errands, and others could be seen performing various tasks. Their party was trying to look everywhere at once, and got a good opportunity to gawk at one point when they had to pause to let a heavily laden cart pass. The cart itself was a sight to behold, or rather, what was pulling it. Six thick legs carried the stocky, dark green body of what was, as far as Meric could tell, a short, fat lizard. The stubby tailed creature ambled about its business, seemingly docile, chewing away on a handful of some vegetation given by the beast’s owner as he walked alongside. Just one of many strange sights.
The clothing of Dhuren’s people ranged from simple knee-length tunics or shirts and trousers to elaborate robes. The material and colors also varied, though linen and leather were the most common. Their group eventually trickled to a stop not long after entering what looked to be a market square. Meric was sure that he was not the only one having a hard time deciding where to turn his attention. He did notice Dhuren standing next to him with a patient, knowing smile on his face.
Stalls lined the outside of the square; from small, one-person operations, to sections ten paces deep and wide with two or three Dwarves manning them. There was also a less populous, yet similar, setup at the center of the area and surrounding an elaborate, multi-tiered fountain. The variety of goods was amazing. There were merchants selling garments, tools, or food. Other stalls had materials of all different kinds that could be used in crafting everything from clothes to weapons. Fastil was leading Brody and Silas to one of the larger stalls, lined with racks of weapons and armor. Meric looked back around in time to see the rest of his friends focusing on Dhuren. The Dwarf chuckled and then addressed them all.
“Go on, have a look. Who knows if we will have time later?”
Alyssa hesitated and asked Dhuren a question.
“You… and all of your men as far as I could tell, speak excellent Common. Is that the case with all of your people?”
The Dwarf let out a hearty laugh.
“Well of course they do, Lady. Who do you think taught it to the Humans?”
She blinked and opened her mouth to respond, but simply shook her head ruefully. After a moment she just walked off throwing a “We can talk about that later” over her shoulder.
“This is quite something. We might have to drag Brody away,” Meric said.
“We do love our merchandise. Nothing like a good session of haggling to get the blood pumping. Our large friend may find a good replacement shield, or some other armor that can be fitted to him. As far as a weapon… that smith will be more interested in buying Brody’s axe than trying to sell him anything. That death dealer is the finest example of it’s kind, anywhere.”
“A kingly gift. Why did you really give it to him? That whole story about hating to see him swinging that ‘ugly hammer’ around never quite fit.” Meric hoped he was not going to offend the dwarf, but he was more curious than ever.
“Ahh… well, I guess you could say that I did it out of hope. Though, Fastil believes it was out of guilt.”
When Meric arched an eyebrow in question, Dhuren sighed, scratched it his beard before smoothing it out and then explained.
“I believe that it is time for us to reenter the world once more. Not just return to the surface, but become involved in your world again. With the Orcs becoming more active, and some of the troubling things we hear about the kingdom of your birth… I feel we could do some good.”
“How is it you hear things that are going on in a kingdom that believes you are no more than a myth?”
“We have our ways,” he said, and chuckled at the look Meric gave him. Holding his hands up defensively, the Dwarf went on.
“We have become good at hiding, and there are old tunnels that run underneath many of the larger human cities. We have done a good bit of listening from the shadows over the last century or so. There are many of my people that have always believed that we would emerge from our caves one day, that we should emerge. There is a lot that our two peoples can offer each other.
“Anyway, back to your question; My hope was in building a lasting friendship. Fastil says I acted out of shame. That day in the tunnels was not the first time we had seen you or your friend. We watched some of your battle from hiding. We were forbidden from interfering, but we watched… and hoped. In the end you and your people won the day, but it was not easy to stand by and do nothing.”
Dhuren finally turned to look Meric in the eye, something he had studiously avoided for the last part of his speech.
“I can see that you are troubled, and I am sure I know why. We could not risk the Orcs knowing that our people were once again venturing out from hiding. As much as you and yours hate the Orcs, they despise my people a hundred fold more.”
“In my head I understand your reasoning, but my heart says many lives could have been spared had you came forth.” Meric was not sure what to feel.
“In the short term… but one clan and a small number of reinforcements would have turned into all of the clans flooding over the mountains to hunt down their ancestral enemy. They would have destroyed any that got in their way.”
They were silent for a moment, but it was short lived. Dhuren cleared his throat and waved Meric after him as he moved off.
“Let us go find that lady of yours, before she outsmarts some poor dwarf out of all his hard-earned money.”
Meric let the dwarf change the subject, needing time to think about what had been said. They found Alyssa and Malina standing next to a table of leather goods. Most of the material was just different enough that he knew it did not come from the same animals as their own gear, but the principal appeared to be the same. A female dwarf, an inch or two taller than Dhuren and a bit more slender, was discussing a knapsack with the two Human women. She was pointing out something on the pack when he and Dhuren arrived.
A loud, deep gong sounded five minutes after they had walked away from the market in the direction of the city center. At the obvious curiosity on the human faces, Fastil informed them that it was the mid-day bell. Any businesses would be closing for two hours, allowing for time to eat and relax before opening up again until the evening bell.
“What happens if you need something during the two hours that everything is closed?” James asked.
“Well… you wait. That was always the trouble with you humans, though. You’re in such a hurry to do everything.” Fastil was the one who answered.
“What if it’s an emergency?” Brody chimed in.
“I suppose that you could track down whoever it is that you need, but it had better be life and death. You go interrupting a Dwarf’s mid-day drink, and you might end up with more worries than you started out with.” This brought a quiet laugh from both of the Dwarves accompanying them.
“Something our people learned from living a span of four to five centuries; life is meant to be experienced, not scurried through like some squirrel frantic to find the next nut,” Fastil continued.
“I’m sure that philosophy works well when you live ten times longer than a human,” was Brody’s response.
“I suppose that could change ones outlook in life.”
“Of course… I kind of like the idea. A couple hours to relax with a good beer, or three. It might just put me in a better mood to deal with the customers.” Brody smiled at the thought.
Meric snorted and slapped his friend on the back before speaking.
“After two hours of drinking, you would not have any customers. They would all be friends, and the drinks would be on the house.”
Brody frowned at this, but then grunted in agreement.
“Nothing wrong with making new friends,” Fastil said encouragingly to Brody.
Brody’s response was stopped before he could even speak it as Dhuren brought the group to a halt in front of an ornate gate opening to a beautiful yard that fronted an elegant three story manor. The yard was covered in a yellow, grass-like vegetation that was only a few inches in height. There were several colorful bushes and areas sectioned off by hedges, with benches and chairs spread throughout. A fountain gurgled from off to the right of the path leading to the front of the residence. All in all, a very peaceful scene.
“Wow,” breathed Malina.
Meric could only agree. The house was just as impressive as any other building in the city. Beautifully crafted, yet solid as a fortress. These Dwarves did not fool around when it came to building things. He followed the group into Dhuren’s home, head twisting this way and that, still trying to take in as many of the sights as possible.
This is the new cover for the first book in the series. The art work is by my cousin, Mack Beasley, and I love the way it turned out. He has already agreed to create a cover for book two, as soon as I provide him with what he needs. I am still working (really, I am!) on book two, but I hope everyone waiting can be patient. It is taking longer than the first, but I feel that is because this book has a little more going on and I want to do it right, rather than fast. The new cover is currently only for the Kindle, but we will be working on the paperback version soon.
One of the hardest parts about giving in to the desire (maybe even need) to write is managing time. Now, for someone who does this professionally it is probably not that difficult. You can set up a schedule centered on your writing and add in other things around it. I know that is a very simplified version of their reality, but when you pay your bill through your creative words, writing comes first and the rest follows. When I say “writing” I do not just mean putting words on paper (or screen). There are plenty of other things involved; research being a key factor, along with world building and character creation. I do not know about everyone else, but a lot of my characters have to be thought out in detail. It is not always something I do properly… some are just notes scribbled down here and there (one day I will get them all organized), and even the ones I make up on the fly will need some thought to go into their back-story. The majority of the secondary or minor characters come into being when and as I need them, but once they have a name, they must have a story.
Some authors, depending on genre, travel for the aforementioned research or spend hours studying a subject matter to get the details right. This takes time, but if that is your day job, then you can schedule accordingly. I know there are some days I will spend three to four hours in front of my computer and not write a single word of the actual book. Since I am writing in the fantasy genre most of my “research” is working on characters or settings that are entirely made up, so it is a bit different, but still time consuming.
However, the reason that this post came about was because I am not a professional. This is not how I actually make my living. My bills are paid by an 8 to 5 job that has nothing to do with the joys or freedom of creative writing. Now, do not get me wrong… I am very thankful to have steady employment. I know that not everyone can say that, and I do not take my paycheck for granted. This is merely an expression of my frustration with a lack of all the time in the world. The great thing is; I am not a professional, so when it comes to my writing I do actually have plenty of time since I do not actually have a deadline I must meet.
That being said… I want to finish my story as soon as I can and get it out there. I know what your thinking: If that’s the case, then why are you writing this instead of working on your book (I’m looking at you, Erica)? I just finished a three hour session of writing before I started this, and even though I love writing that story I still need to break away from it sometimes. Which is where all of these thoughts came from. I only have nights and weekends (thankfully I do not have to work on the weekends) as my free time. Ideally I would write from the time I got home until it was time to sleep, but that is just not feasible. Some nights I can get so caught up in the story that I will actually do that, but usually it is just a few hours. And that is not every night.
The main problem is that, while I do love writing, I also love reading. A lot. So with only so many hours of free time, my writing cuts into my time to read… or watch movies, or television (mostly this one is only an issue during the college football season), or any other things I would like to do. It is a frustrating situation, and I am still struggling to find that happy medium (pun intended). In the mean time, if you are impatiently awaiting book two, all I can say is please bear with me. I am definitely working on it… I even created three new characters this morning, so now I will have to spend some time fleshing them out. See how that works.
Available for download on the Kindle: The Bandits of Pratt’s Refuge. This complete novella is a prequel to A Soldier’s Honor, and is now on Amazon for $0.99 on the Kindle. While it is not necessary to read this story before “Honor”, I do think it adds a bit more depth to the characters and world. I hope you will check it out, and if you like it please spread the word.
BUY NOW ON AMAZON!
As you may, or may not know… I have been writing a short story to go along with “The Scepter of Maris” series. It is a prequel novella that takes place about two years before “A Soldier’s Honor” and features some of the characters from that book. The story mainly focuses on Meric, Malina, and James, but there are a few other minor characters from Book One, as well as some new ones being introduced. It is certainly not necessary to read this before you read “Honor”, but if you are interested in how James first meets Meric and Malina, you will find it there. I will be putting it up on Amazon as a $0.99 download on the Kindle, so there is really no reason not to grab it and enjoy. Below is the cover and a brief synopsis of the novella.
Horrible crimes have been committed on the road to Yost, a lakeside traders town in the Kingdom of Glendon. Already set to hunt down the ones responsible for the first set of murders, the Yost garrison commander Captain James Bridgewater discovers two more instances to lay at the feet of these bandits. The most recent crime is the worst of all, and it has James and his men more determined than ever to put a stop to it. With the help of two new allies, he will show these bandits the meaning of justice.
It should be up soon, but for right now it is being checked over by my amazing editor (also read sister) Leslie Dupree. Once I get it back and go through all of the revisions and any polishing I might deem necessary, I will put it up on Amazon. The cover is from Author Marketing Club (a very helpful site for aspiring authors), and will probably be temporary, just like the one for “Honor”. The new cover for “A Soldier’s Honor” is being done by an amazing artist (also read cousin) named Mack Beasley, and I hope to talk to him about doing one for this book as well. One of the hardest parts about self-publishing is not have the resources or money for things like editing and book covers. I am very fortunate to have people helping me along the way.
I will put up another post when the book is available for download, but for now… back to Book Two.
The next chapter of my prequel short story (in progress and unedited). If you have not read any of it yet, here is Chapter One.
The Bandit’s of Pratt’s Refuge
Chapter Five: The Refuge
“That was amazing!” Weber said for the third time. Though, thankfully, at a more reasonable volume after Meric had warned him on the second repetition. Weber seemed determined that he know how impressive the speed and accuracy of his shot had been. After he let out a deep sigh, he heard Malina chuckle from somewhere behind them.
They had regrouped after finding the prisoner, and settled in while Wood (as Meric had noticed the men referring to the Sergeant) had his ‘chat’ with the man. Apparently, the prisoner had been very cooperative. Wood said the guy could not sell out his friends fast enough, and while they would not rely on the man’s word alone, they definitely gained some useful information. The revelation of the caves beneath the valley, alone, would have been worth the hassle of dealing with another prisoner, not to mention that they were indeed the ones responsible for the deaths being investigated. The number of men, placement of lookout position, and weapons available would be verified to the extent possible. Which was what they had gathered to discuss, along with strategies for taking the valley. One of the Cullen twins (Meric could not tell them apart, yet) was left to watch the prisoner after he had been bound and gagged.
They were looking at the map and deliberating the possible ways to enter the valley, which was running almost exactly north to south, when Meric noticed the troubled look on the Captain’s face. Bridgewater was so obviously not looking at Meric and Malina that he might as well have shouted their names. The Captain’s dilemma was understandable; the people best suited to scout out the area for information, where the two people he knew the least about. Could he trust them? It would not be an easy decision, but Meric believed that the Captain would have to place his trust in them. From what he had seen so far, they were the only two with the skill necessary for the task. While Weber was not hopeless, he had nowhere near Meric or Malina’s abilities. Even Woodard, who could move with surprising stealth for a man built like he was, could not match the two Rennick natives.
Putting the lives of your men in the hands of relative strangers was not a position to be envied. Meric left the Captain to his deliberations, and looked to Wood as he spoke about the vale. He was pointing out the locations of the lookouts according to their prisoner when the Captain called him and the Lieutenant aside. Handing the map to Baker, the Sergeant moved off in his superiors’ direction. While the three of them put their heads together, Meric joined the discussion with Malina and the rest of the soldiers. He would abide by the Captain’s final decision, but could only hope that the man agreed with his assessment.
“We take out the sentry on this hill overlooking the valley, and replace him with Meric. With his skill using that bow, he can start taking out the enemy just before we attack,” said Terry Cullen (or was it Perry? He still could not tell).
“Right,” continued the other Cullen. “Then we hit them while they are all confused.
“Good plan, Cullen comma P,” Woodard barked at the first Cullen that had spoken even as he approached the group, making half of them flinch.
Meric had to bite the inside of his cheek to keep from laughing out loud. He would have to make sure he was around the next time Woodard went to Brody’s inn. Having the two of them in the same room might be fun, especially if there was beer involved.
“Uh… thank you, Sergeant?” came the hesitant reply. He seemed to gather some courage and continued. “I thi-”
“Don’t tax that brain of yours, Private. You okay with that plan, Vettor?”
“Yes, Sergeant,” Meric replied crisply, causing said Sergeant to narrow his eyes.
Meric could tell that the man was unsure if he was trying to be funny. Meric just looked calmly back at him until the man snorted and turned back to the others.
“Alright, here’s how it’s going to go down. Me, Vettor, and Malina will scout out the area first.”
He must have seen something in Malina’s face that made him pause, because he raised a hand to her.
“Hear me out. Vettor will take the eastern most hilltop overlooking the valley. That will be his side to scout as well. It should be a higher vantage point than the other side. I know you two would be better at getting around unseen by yourselves, but I’m gonna need you to go into the valley with the others, Malina. After scouting out the area, you’re gonna get me close enough to the other sentry, and then get back to the south end of the valley.
“We will split up so that there will be people entering either end. That idiot told me that the main cave entrance was kept hidden, in case someone found them out here. They have ladders in place to get to the entrances they use regularly. There are two; one for the boss and one for the rest of them. If trouble comes, they hit the caves and remove the ladders after they are up. Hopefully, we catch them off guard enough to prevent that, but there will probably be some of them in the caves already. Your job is to find that entrance, and lead the others to it.”
She nodded, satisfied enough with her orders.
“An hour after the sun drops below the tree line, me and Vettor take out the sentries and move into position, replacing them. Hopefully with no one the wiser. After that, we wait to a two hundred count, and then start raining down the confusion.” The last part was said with a grin.
Meric was not the only one to return the eager smile.
“Seven in the group to the south, the other three post at the northern end to keep anyone from getting away. If the prisoner was not lying, there should only be twenty-three of them left. If you sorry lot can’t handle two-to-one odds with this bunch of scum, then if you survive, you’ll wish you hadn’t when I’m done.” Woodard looked around at each of his men, and nodded his approval at what he saw. “Damn right! Let’s move out.”
Meric spent the last two hours of daylight scouting the area he was assigned and then reporting back. It was as Woodard suspected; these were a bunch of lazy, undisciplined ruffians. The one man he found on watch at the north end was sitting with his feet up, back turned to the outside, and drinking. The target up on the hill was also drinking, but at least he was looking in the right direction. He had also begun starting a fire just as Meric headed back to report, that would most likely back-light him nicely once the sun was down. When he reported to the others he mentioned that he thought there might be some ground traps at the entrance to the vale that he was assigned to check, because of the route the few men walking around took. They did not take any particular path until they got to a certain point, and then they always walked the same route.
Malina agreed and Woodard ordered Weber to take the northern end, as he would be more likely to spot these traps if those men needed to come in from that way, and the men at the south would wait for Malina to lead them in. Once everyone was briefed on their responsibility, the Captain stepped forward.
“With everything the prisoner has told us, added to the fact that the trail leads directly here, there is no doubt in my mind that these are the ones responsible for the killings we have been investigating. If you need more; Malina actually made her way into the valley and had a look around.” There were several surprised looks sent in her direction, and more than one nod of respect. “She overheard two men talking about the latest murders… one was… detailed in his retelling. They also have two young women caged up next to the eastern most cottage.
“Meric, make sure no one tries to use them as hostages.”
At Meric’s nod the Captain then took a moment to make eye contact with each of his soldier’s.
“If you can incapacitate any of them without putting yourself, or someone else in danger, do so. Otherwise, you put them down like the dogs they are. If they surrender… well, that is what the shackles you will carry are for. If they do not surrender… you show them the same mercy they showed that little boy.” As he finished, his voice was cold, implacable.
There was not a single person present that had any problem with those orders. Meric hated to take a life, but also knew sometimes it was necessary. Life was precious, and not to be thrown away needlessly. That knife cut both ways, though. These men deserved what they would get, and if he had to lose a little sleep over it, then so be it. He was certain that he would not be losing much.
They ended their briefing after going over the updates of traps and lookouts he Malina had made to the map, then moved out to their areas of responsibility. The sun had just set, and the sky was rapidly darkening, but Meric had paid attention when he was scouting earlier. He found his way back to the spot he had picked with no trouble. Settling in to wait, he divided his attention between his target and the moon, as it slowly crept higher. It was reasonably bright, but not full. It also would not be overhead any time soon, so they could not rely on it for light. Meric did not think that would be an issue, since these men did not appear to have a lack of firewood. He could tell from the way the trees were lit up that there had to be a few big fires going down in the vale, and as he had thought, the man he was watching had a blazing fire going just behind him.
Shaking his head at the man’s stupidity, Meric studied the trees around the lookout for indications of wind. The orange glowing foliage did not even stir in the slightest, causing a slight grin to come across his features. Perfect.
When the appointed time came, Meric stood from his crouch and moved a step away from the pine he had been leaning against. Sighting his target even as he put tension on the bowstring, he breathed in deeply. When his right thumb brushed his ear, he let out the breath slow and even, adjusted slightly, and let fly.
Just as the string had slipped past the point of no return on his fingertips, another figure began to reveal itself from out of the darkness surrounding the firelight. With no hesitation, acting on pure reflex, another shaft was sent on it’s way. There was barely a second separating the two arrows as they crossed the distance to the, now two, targets. Meric could not tell due to the distance and lack of light, but he imagined that the second person barely had time to be surprised at the arrow sprouting from his companions chest before the second yard long projectile pierced his own heart. Both dropped dead without making any more sound than that of their bodies hitting the dirt.
Sprinting across the open area, he found the path up to the lookout post easily enough, and headed up as fast as the incline would allow him to go safely in the dark. Woodard would have a much easier time, since the western side of the valley was not much more than a big hill. He once again felt thankful for the lack of apparent skill or discipline shown by these men, as he followed the path leading up. Leaving an obvious trail right up to their lookout post was just one example of their ineptitude.
At the top Meric began a count in his head and made a quick check of the area just in case there might be another uninvited guest and then moved away from the fire and toward the inside ridge over looking the valley interior. He knew that he and Woodard would not be able to time their assault exactly, but they would be close enough. They were mainly going to be a distraction, so it might even be to their benefit.
Finding a spot that kept him from being visible due to the fire, but with a good field of view, he surveyed the dell and continued counting. He located the rock ledge that held the cave entrances about thirty yards down to his right, mentally marking it as a point to keep an eye on. The spot he chose would be a good one for keeping the bandits away from the cave entrance.
He had only made it to one hundred and twenty-three when a woman’s scream drew his attention to movement by the cottage below him. His earlier scan had shown the two make-shift cages, both with an occupant. He checked these again with a quick glance, and seeing them still occupied, he turned back to find a man dragging the screaming woman around the back of the cottage by the hair. She tried to fight back, but was jerked even harder by the hand fisted in her hair, causing her to stumble. The man pulled her into the shadows behind the cottage, but fortunately for Meric, the three large bonfires spread around the center of the vale were bright enough for residual light to reach them. It was not ideal, but he could see well enough for a shot.
By this time he still had over a sixty count to go, but he would not be able to wait. The man yanked the woman around to face him and then punched her in the face so hard she spun and landed face down in the grass. Not giving her time to recover, the man was on top of her quickly. She had not made it fully to her knees when he yanked her skirt up over her back and knelt down hard over her legs causing her to collapse. She struggled in vain, as the man’s hands went to his own waist to work on his clothes fastenings. He had just finished getting his belt loose when Meric’s arrow took him in the throat. The woman had never stopped struggling, so even as her assailant toppled sideways she was scrambling away. Rolling onto her backside, she continued crawling backwards until noticing the state of the man that had been attacking her. Confusion and fear had her looking around frantically. It did not take long for her gaze to make it up the hillside, and even though every instinct he had screamed at him to stay concealed, he moved until he was lit up enough for her to see.
He did not stay that way long. When he felt sure that she had seen him, he waved her in his direction, and then moved back to the shadows. What she did next would be up to her. Once more concealed by darkness, he surveyed the area again, looking to see if anyone noticed what had just transpired. Apparently they had not. He could see several men hanging around the fires, laughing and rowdy. Only one turned in the direction the man had taken, but he had merely shouted “watch out, she bites!” and went back to his drink while his nearby friends roared out laughter in response.
Despite all of this going on, Meric had not lost his count. Noise from directly below turned out to be the woman making her way to him, so he shifted his aim away from her to search out a new target. As soon as he reached two hundred he sent the knocked shaft on its way. Right into the left butt cheek of the ‘comedian’. He did not feel inclined to kill the grin that formed at the man’s high pitched scream.