Weaving together the threads that make up my passion for the written word…as an author, editor, and follower of The Word.
As promised on the DKC 12 Days of Christmas facebook page, I am sharing an excerpt from the new book. This hasn’t gone through its final editing phase yet, so no guarantee there won’t be changes before publication.
Warning–there are definite spoilers here! If you haven’t yet read “Journey to Aviad” but plan to, you may want to skip this post. For everyone else, hope you enjoy!
Excerpt from Chapter One – The Winter Festival
Elowyn gazed upon the endless road ahead of her. She recognized the path … narrow and treacherous, surrounded by a vast, ancient wilderness that showed no trace of man’s presence. How could she have gotten back here again? Frustration and discouragement overwhelmed her until the tears welled up and began to spill over. Had her arrival in Minhaven been nothing more than a pleasant dream, or perhaps a hallucination brought on by fatigue and meager meals? She looked around frantically for Morganne and Adelin. She could not find them, nor any sign that they had ever been with her. She was completely alone.
Elowyn turned toward Minhaven, distraught and fervently hoping that her sisters were somewhere ahead. If not, she would need help to find them. She knew that she was close enough to walk there by nightfall if she truly pressed herself. But as soon as Elowyn tried to move, she found that she was mired up to her calves in a thick sea of mud. She could barely lift her legs. She called out loudly for help, even as she could hear Einar’s melodic voice in her mind telling her what a foolish thing that was to do. Elowyn could not bear the thought of being left to endure the cold of the mountain and the beasts of the night alone. She wondered where Morganne and Adelin were and why they had gone without her.
A guttural cry echoed through the forest. A moment later, Elowyn felt a slight tremor in the earth. The birds in the trees around her took sudden flight, calling out in warning to the rest of the forest. The small scurrying animals quickly scattered into trees and underground, leaving the wood draped in an ominous silence, broken only by the sound of crashing brush in the distance. She peered intently through the trees, her anxiety growing as the sound grew louder. Finally she caught a glimpse of the very last thing she had expected, or hoped, to see in response to her call for help. The looming shape of a troll came into view—one of the very same trolls that had destroyed Deep Lake. Her mind flashed back to the first moment she saw it, towering above the settlement walls and baring its huge teeth. Elowyn felt sick with horror as she tried to block out the memory of the guardsman being ripped in two. She heard a piercing shriek echo through the wood, and after looking around for the source, realized that it was coming from her own throat. The troll’s eyes focused down upon her and he let out a deep, merciless laugh. Elowyn had no idea how or why the beast had followed her from Deep Lake. As if in answer to her thoughts, it called out to her in the primitive tongue she now recognized from her last encounter. Only this time, she found that she could understand what it was saying. “Cast away the coin or be destroyed!”
Terrified, Elowyn tried desperately to free her feet from the thick mud encasing her. The harder she pulled, the more entrapped she became. As the troll moved slowly, steadily closer, the hair on her neck stood on end and her ears began to ring. If only she could free herself, she could run and hide before it reached her. But the mud pulled her in deeper each time she struggled. She began to panic, not knowing what to do.
The troll was close enough now that his stench filled the air … a mixture of stagnant water and decaying flesh. Pale and shaking, Elowyn gathered her courage to face the Troll with whatever dignity Aviad might grant her. She thrust her hand into her pouch and grasped the coin tightly. The troll wanted it, but it was not his to take. She wondered if she should fling it as hard as she could into the thick brush and trust that no one would ever find it. As her mind contemplated going through with this plan born of desperation, she began to see lights moving about in the darkness between the trees. The wisps had come! Elowyn gazed upon their brilliance with a jubilant heart. Naturally, she expected that the wisps were there to save her and fight back the troll, just as they had fought the brigands on the road to Greywalle. To her dismay, they did not. The wisps flew past both the troll and herself, and gathered in a patch of dark, tangled woodland just behind her. She realized that they were trying to illuminate something resting on the ground. It was a single page of parchment with writing on it. One of its edges was ragged as though it had been torn from book.
The troll was nearly upon her now, and as she looked past it, she could see that there were more coming—all far larger than the ones she had known before, towering high into the sky, their heads above the trees. One of their footsteps was heavy enough to crush her in an instant, one finger strong enough to lift her effortlessly. Elowyn called out for the wisps to help her, but they only circled above the torn page, the unintelligible music of their voices ringing out on the air. Elowyn was completely frozen in the mud now, and her fruitless efforts had left her exhausted. With no other option left, she called upon Aviad to save her. The trolls shrieked as if pained by the mention of His name, but they did not slow their pace. Elowyn made one last effort to free herself and found that some of the mud had fallen away from her feet. Encouraged, she called again to Aviad and found that she could finally move, but only towards the wisps and the fallen page.
Understanding that the parchment must be important, Elowyn rushed toward it and quickly retrieved it. She tried to read the faded, ancient scrawl brushed upon the page, only to find that it was written in a language far beyond her understanding. The parchment itself was so old that its edges began to crumble into powder at the slightest touch of her fingers. The wisps flew deeper into the wood and Elowyn hastily followed, still aware of the trolls’ close pursuit. Another piece of torn parchment appeared and the wisps illuminated it until she picked it up. Like the first, it was ancient, crumbling, and unreadable. Her meager attempts at deciphering the script made her head swim and her body feel feverish. She looked away and called out to the wisps in frustration. She did not understand what they wanted of her, and gathering the pieces of parchment was only slowing her escape from the trolls. The wisps, however, were insistent. Page by page, they drew her further in until she realized that she was standing on the edge of a sheer cliff.
Spread out before Elowyn was a vast, green valley that was blackened by an immense hoard of grotesque creatures, all fully equipped and armed for battle. They wore blackened leather armor and carried crudely made pikes and round bronze shields. In the midst of these dark figures, Elowyn caught a bright flash of golden hair. There was a man, seated on a noble charger, clad in shining silver mail and armed with nothing but a broad sword. He gazed back at her, staring boldly into her face. The man’s glance took in the pages in her hands and the pouch at her side before his eyes locked with hers. Somehow Elowyn knew that she was seeing the legendary Varol, and that the torn pages belonged to him. She also sensed that he knew about the coin she carried and that it was meant for his hands. He began to make his way toward her, slashing his way through the mass of beasts, but his progress was too slow. He was only one man, hopelessly outnumbered by the forces surrounding him. She felt that she must find a way to reach him, but there was no place for her to climb down, and his path was blocked by darkness.
Elowyn was suddenly brought back to the reality of her own peril when she felt a sharp pain in her arm. One of the wisps had stung her. She stared at it with hurt indignation as the others closed in tightly around her, pushing her toward the edge of the precipice. Between her and the trees stood the troll … it had caught up with her at last. It grinned down at her with its stained teeth, blood dripping from the corners of its mouth, looking just as it had that night at Deep Lake when it had devoured the watchman before her eyes. Only now the troll bore a strange mark on its forehead—a raised circular shaped brand with a curved line running through the center. She had never seen such a mark before, but it gave her an ominous feeling that went well beyond fear for the sake of her own mortal life.
The wisps chattered excitedly at Elowyn. Some of them flew about the troll’s face in an attempt to distract it. The troll only brushed them away in an irritated fashion as though they were flies on a hot summer afternoon. Once again, the wisps surrounded Elowyn and began to sting her, pushing her as close to the edge as she could go without falling. Far below, the beasts surrounding Varol were watching, waiting to see what she would do. As they looked up at her she realized that they bore the same strange brand on their foreheads as the troll. Varol pressed through the midst of them, his sword never ceasing as he, too, waited to see if she would choose to jump or be devoured. Her heart pounding wildly, nearly fainting with fear, Elowyn called out one last time to Aviad. The only answer she received was another wisp sting, harder this time. The troll began to laugh … sinister and deafening, shaking the whole forest. The wisps stung her harder as the troll’s giant hands were about to close around her. Her time finally up, she found her moment of clarity. Though either choice led to certain death, there was one path that would deny the troll its prize. She leaped …
Elowyn awoke with her heart reeling and her night clothes drenched. She could still feel the pain in her arm from the wisp stings. Looking down, she saw that in her sleep she had rolled too close to the fire. Bits of ember and ash had popped out and burned her skin. Elowyn sat before the fire, hugging her knees, tears of both fright and relief streaming down her face. She was still in Minhaven and nothing was chasing her. She was not being eaten by trolls or stung by wisps, nor was she flying off a cliff’s edge. Morganne and Adelin were sleeping peacefully close by. She was not alone. And yet, her nightmare had seemed so real, she had fully believed it. There was a part of her that still did believe, leaving her anxious and uneasy. This dream had the same ineffable quality as the strangely prophetic one she’d had the night she slept in the Temple ruin not so very long ago.
Elowyn wrapped herself in a blanket and opened the door to their room as quietly as she could. She tiptoed down the corridor, through the kitchen and over to the little door at the back of the tavern. Pushing it open, she stepped out into a clear, frigid winter night. The silence was remarkable, as though no man, nor any other creature in the whole of the world, were awake except for her. The moon was exceptionally bright, spilling its white light generously over the landscape. There was a soft mantle of freshly fallen snow beneath her slippered feet, and the wind tore through her blanket as though it were not even there. Her whole body shivered. Elowyn breathed deeply, coughing as the bitterly cold air seared her lungs. She did not care. She welcomed the sensation, which brought her so forcibly back into the waking world, soothing away all of her imagined doubts and fears. She scooped up a fistful of snow and applied it to her burns, until the pain that follows numbness became greater than that inflicted by the fire. She knew that in the morning she would have to use the last of the healing herbs she had brought from her garden in Tyroc to make a poultice, but for now, the mountain snow would suffice.
When Elowyn was too chilled to bear the wind any longer, she reluctantly went back inside and returned to her room. She pulled her mat away from the fire and made an attempt to sleep. She tossed and turned uncomfortably, with flashes from her dream continuing to surface in her mind. As the snow’s fleeting relief wore off, the heat of the burns returned. The pain became a constant and worrisome reminder of the wisps in her dream, who had not behaved at all like the ones she had met on the road to Greywalle.
When the night sky finally began to fade, and Elowyn could hear the unmistakable rattle of dishes from the kitchen, she carefully dressed and sought the comforts of the cook’s quiet companionship. The cook was a plump, rosy cheeked woman named Idna, who rarely spoke but always had a kind smile for Elowyn. She often slipped Elowyn bits of food and other treats when she helped out with chores. Early morning was Elowyn’s favorite time of day to help, when the kitchen was a tiny island of activity. Beyond the gentle glow of the lamps and the hearth, the typically boisterous tavern slept soundly in the dark, its character completely changed in its emptiness. On this particular day, the first day of the winter festival in Minhaven, there was an expectant tension in the silence. The world now waited for the onset of the festival as it had once waited for the living tear of Aviad to fall as it hung in the sky like a new morning star. The decorations were already in place, and most of the food had been prepared over the past several days. There was an excitement hanging on the air, beautiful and mysterious, like slowly curling smoke.
This would be Morganne and Elowyn’s first winter festival in Minhaven. Truth be told, it was to be their first anywhere, as their mother had not approved of either the holiday’s meaning or the frivolity with which it was celebrated. She had always kept the girls tucked away until the revelry was over. Elowyn and Morganne found themselves caught up in the magic of the season with the same awe and wonder as very young children. Wyman, the tavern keeper, had told them countless stories of Festivals past – tales of great contests of skill and wit, of those who had triumphed and those who had risen from failure to try again. This was an important time for feasting, for games, for song, for jesting and for charity. Above all, it was a time to remember Aviad, the Prophets and the heroes of old, and a time for everyone to put forth the best of what they had for the benefit of the whole community. It was a brief moment of exuberant defiance, where a people who were always so careful with what they had, dared to enjoy a lavish celebration just at the onset of an uncertain winter.
The rest to come in 2015… : )
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