Short Story: Origins

One of my beta readers said that if I was going to write several of my novels in a fantasy empire, she wanted me to post some short stories about the origin and back story of the empire. She was curious, but didn’t want to bog down the books. And so…

 

Origins

Leonora stepped off the boat and wrinkled her nose. The smell of sewage, animal, and sweat assaulted her as the sun warmed her neck and shoulders. Several squires were coaxing skittish horses down the ramshackle docks, and a few harried knights were overseeing the transfer of provisions. They didn’t deserve to die. None of them did, even if her father disagreed.

Unfurling her parasol, she cast a small spell to keep her dress from getting soiled and picked her way through the muck.

A young knight with a shock of blonde hair and smooth face hurried over to her, and realizing who she was, took a step back. “Your…ladyship?”

“Good enough.” She snapped her parasol closed. Few knew how to address the bastard daughter of the king.

“This is no place for a lady, ma’am.”

“Unfortunate I came all the way across the sea then. I’m looking for Knight-Lord Dracasan.”

Confusion puckered the young knight’s face, but he led her to a large drab tent. There was nothing to knock on, so the boy cleared his throat. “Knight-Lord-”

Leonora pushed past him into the tent. Cato Dracasan sat with his elbows balanced on his knees, a lock of dark hair curling over his forehead as he pressed his hands together and tapped them against his chin. With a day-old beard and unkempt hair, he looked nothing like the refined gentleman that had graced the ballrooms of Stardale a few months ago. Here, he looked like the brooding warrior he was.

Cato glanced up at her, and he narrowed his eyes but didn’t stand. “What in the seven hells are you doing here?”

The young knight scurried away as Leonora met the Knight-Lord’s glare. “What a lovely greeting. It’s good to see you as well, Knight-Lord Dracasan.”

Cato pushed out of his chair, filling the tent and making her want to step back. But she knew better than to retreat from a predator.

“Get on the ship andgo back home. There’s nothing for you here.”

She ignored the sting in his words and twirled her parasol. “There’s nothing for me there, either. But I have something you want. Something King Orin prays you don’t get.”

Cato raised a dark brow. “I think you made it quite clear that was something I was never going to get.”

“Had I said anything else, my step-mother would’ve had us both killed.”

“Might be better than the slow death here.”

Unscrewing the end of her parasol, she tipped it upward and slid out a rolled piece of paper. She unrolled it and revealed a detailed map of the landing site and surrounding areas.

Cato’s eyes widened as he stared at the map. “Where did you get this?”

“From my father. Of course, he doesn’t know I made a copy of it. Or that I brought it to you.”

Cato studied the document. “So he knew he was sending us to our deaths.”

“Of course he did. Question is what are you going to do about it?”

Without Us

Without Us

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I studied Mac, and she glanced over at me. We both sucked in one last breath of clean air as the doors to the bunker opened. The rest of the team stood behind the blast shield, ready to flood the area with gamma rays if anything forced its way in.

Nothing did.

We hefted our packs and walked out, the doors closing with an ominous thud.

Following the concrete tube, we walked into a brilliant light that seared my eyes and forced me to turn away.

Tears ran down my cheeks as Mac touched my shoulder. “Put on your Uplink.”

The moment it settled over my eyes, the light dimmed, and a pre-war map displayed our destination and directions.

“Bet none of those streets still exist,” Mac said.

“It’ll auto correct as we go and send back updated information.”

“Let’s hope they don’t need it,” Mac said.

I swallowed and nodded. We needed to survive and bring back the needed components so we could all make it another hundred years.

Mac and I worked our way down the mountainside, but the endurance training hadn’t prepared us for the uneven terrain, choking undergrowth, or burning sun. After a few hours, I was sweating, my legs ached, and my feet hurt.

“At least the chiefs were right about nothing surviving,” Mac said. “Haven’t even seen a squirrel.”

Peering through my Uplink, I wondered if it would be able to identify a squirrel if we saw one.

As the sun dipped low, Mac pointed to a dilapidated shack in the distance.

Fear filled my throat. “It’s not structurally sound.”

“Nothing’s gonna be, and there might be tin, iron or gold.”

I thought back to our training. The risk was minimal, and the training said people had kept gold and silver jewelry before the war. I followed Mac.

The front steps had rotted away and the door hung off its hinges. Mac stepped inside, her weapon drawn. I drew mine and followed behind her, the weight of the gun cold, slick and foreign.

After a hundred years, there was little to find. Tattered drapes twisted over broken windows and trees sprouted up between rotted floorboards. Bits and pieces of debris littered the floor, but I couldn’t identify most of it and neither could my Uplink.

“Over here,” Mac said.

I followed her to what had once been a kitchen. Cans of foodstuff lay scattered across the floor, their exteriors corroded and labels worn away.

“Lots of metal in here,” Mac said. “Looks like copper plumbing too.”

“But no neodymium.”

“Didn’t expect there to be. Let’s hope the chiefs are right, and there’s still some of that in the old battery factory.”

“Assuming the factory is still there.”

“Better be,” Mac said.

I opened my magpack and withdrew the despacer. After a few minutes, I’d reduced the usable metal down to the size of a fork and loaded it into my magpack.

“Curious?” Mac asked as she held up a couple of rusted cans.

“Not really.”

Mac grinned and popped open the can.

“What is that?” I grimaced. The smell was nauseating, and the greasy brown contents looked worse than the smell.

“Looks like canned meat product.” Mac stuck her finger in the gelatinous goo.

“Do not eat- I can’t believe you just did that.”

“Tastes better than it smells.” Mac grinned and offered me the can. “Sure you don’t want to try a bite?”

I shoved it away and swallowed back bile. “Positive.”

Mac sat down beside me and we split a tube of foodpaste.

I glanced over at the can of gooey meat. “Could you imagine eating that?”

Mac shrugged. “They needed more calories than we do.”

“They weren’t confined to an underground bunker.”

“Or modified.”

I rubbed my legs. “We should find a place to spend the night.”

“This seems as good as any.”

“Sure the walls won’t come down on us?”

“Haven’t come down in a hundred years. Doubt tonight will be the night.”

I considered that for a moment, and while it wasn’t a logical argument, I was too tired to argue.

 

The high-pitched chirping of our Uplinks woke us and warned of a huge creature moving at twenty-five miles-per-hours in our direction. Fear swallowed me as a huge mass of fur and claws barreled through the rotted walls.

The beast gobbled the contents of the meat can and swung its shaggy head towards us. Mac stood frozen beside me as it snarled and reared up on its back legs.

Gunshots deafened me and pounded through my head as a pre-war robot shot the creature.

The creature roared and charged the robot.

I steadied my breathing and aimed my weapon.

As the creature knocked the robot to the ground, I pulled the trigger.

The creature flew across the shack, knocking down the rear wall, and then exploding as it smashed into a tree.

“What the hell kind of gun is that?” the robot asked as it stood up.

“You’re not a robot?” I asked.

He laughed as he removed his helmet. “Knight-Captain Wyoming reporting for duty.”

“Knight-Captain?” I looked up at the strange man. The top of my head barely reached his shoulders.

“You’re not from around here,” York said.

“But you are. We thought no one survived the war.”

He gave me a lopsided grin. “Glad to prove you wrong. But we should move before the smell of blood brings something nastier.”

“Where to?” Mac asked.

“There’s a checkpoint not far from here. On the way there, you can tell me what two civilians are doing up here in the wilds.” He motioned to their strange weapons, the Uplinks over their eyes, and their odd gear. “And you can explain all of that.”

Civilians. So more than just the military had survived.

I looked at Wyoming and then over at the dead creature. Those of us in the bunker were supposed to be mankind’s ticket past the apocalypse, the start of a new future. I thought about what we’d been sent to retrieve and what we’d already found.

There were other people. People that lived outside the bunker.

The future of mankind had happened, and it had happened without us.

What Is a Knight?

What is a knight? Most of us picture a man clad in heavy armor, similar to this:

Knights

But, as with many things, our general perception doesn’t encapsulate the entire truth.

I did a bit of research on historical knights so I’d know what they were and could borrow from reality and legend to create the knights in my own work.

In reality, a knight was usually a mounted soldier serving under a feudal lord in Europe. The concept of what a knight was would come to mean men, usually of noble birth (but not required), who would be apprenticed as first a page and then a squire.

During this apprenticeship, they were taught all of the skills necessary to be a skilled fighter, as well as religion, reading and writing, and social decorum. They’d then be given the military rank of knight and be bound to the code of chivalry.

This code of chivalry was enacted partially to control behavior. Because history has taught us how well behaved soldiers can be. See also, Vikings.

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They’d terrorized much of Europe, so yeah, chivalry had its reasons.

Unlike many other titles (duke, baron, etc.), knighthood was not hereditary. It was given to a person by a sovereign because of personal merit or service. This means that it was easier for men who were good at being soldiers to move up in rank. It also meant you never had a six-year-old knight. Unlike some kings. And helped reduce the crazy, unlike in kings.

Knights were an important part of feudal system established by Charlemagne. Under this system, the king owned all of the land, and he granted fiefs to various lords in return for loyalty, protection and service.

In order to provide this protection, the knight class was created. Many knights were professional warriors, and the lord they served paid them for the services, and provided food, lodging, armor, weapons and horses.

Knighthood was a way for a man to advance in a society that offered few other means. As it also wasn’t an inherited position, it was a way for a younger son of a lord to advance himself. Knights could make fortunes from their service, and they could be granted land from the king and become a lord in their own right.

While many of us think of Knights of the Round Table when we think of knights.

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Okay, maybe not this King Arthur.

In reality, knights were experienced mounted soldiers. They were also supposed to have a firm grounding in religion, among other things, but the reality was knights were about as religious as any other general order of soldiers.

Stories of knights have been told for a very long time. I think it somewhat relates to the legends of King Arthur, but I also think seeing men riding in armor on horseback left a strong impression. It was story worthy.

 

How about you? What do you think of when you think of knights? Maybe Sir Lancelot or Sir Galahad from King Arthur’s court? Ser Bronn from Game of Thrones? Sir El Cid of Spain? Or maybe you think of something all together different?

Looking for Fantasy Romance Recommendations

I’m looking for recommendations for good fantasy romance novels.

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Okay, yes, I have a pile of Regency novels, but these aren’t my preferred genre. They are just easy to find.

I prefer high fantasy with elves, knights, dragons, wizards and the like. Though, at this point, I’ll take recommendations for anything.

Happily-ever-after is a must or it isn’t a romance novel.

I don’t care if it had graphic steamy scenes, but I’d prefer no graphic violence.

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This is fine. I mean, it is fantasy.

I’ll even take something that fits this as a beta-reader or advanced copy reader and give an honest review in return.

Practice (Part 2)

If you’d like to catch-up with the story, Part 1 is here.

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Skyla caught up to Mara, the mage’s soft grey eyes were bright with excitement. “We did it. Just like you said.”

Mara nodded once.

“You really think this’ll work?”

Mara shrugged. “Where I’m from it would.”

Skyla chewed her lower lip as she avoided Mara’s gaze.

“You’re sure you’re okay with this?”

“Yes.” A beautiful blush reddened the mage’s cheeks. “Only one way I’ll know. And I’m curious.”

“Haven’t met a mage that wasn’t.”

Skyla stared at her for too long. “Are you okay?”

“It’s Keenan you should be worried about.”

The mage’s blush deepened, and she followed Mara the rest of the way to Ndrek’s bar in silence.

Mara nodded to Ndrek than took a table in the back corner. She sprawled into the rearmost chair, keeping her back to the wall as she surveyed the bar. A few regulars were already there, and a steady trickle of customers was filling the rest of the tables.

The floor was tacky from spilled ale, but the tables were clean enough and the chairs comfortable after a day toying with Knights. Mara would’ve had fun messing with them if she didn’t know what the Knights would face in the eastern provinces.

They were kids, most of them who hadn’t seen anything more threatening than a pack of wolves or a petty thief. Nothing compared to the horrors beyond Tamryn’s borders. And it was beyond those traditional boarders that most of those Knights would be stationed. And where they’d die.

She didn’t share that with Skyla.

Instead, Mara leaned back and listened to Skyla’s stories and anecdotes as she waited for Keenan to join them. He was a Knight. He would come. Knights didn’tgo back on their word.

Ndrek stopped over and gave Skyla a grin that showed his perfect white teeth. “To what do I owe the pleasure of having one of the most promising students from the University of Arcane Arts in my humble establishment?”

Skyla blushed and mumbled something.

“Three hellfires,” Mara said. “Knight Keenan will be picking up the tab when he arrives.”

“I will have to charge him double to make up for having a Knight in my bar.”

“Or you could double his drink.”

Ndrek grinned, bowed, and disappeared back behind the bar.

As Ndrek returned with the smoking drinks, Keenan entered the bar. Uncertainty pinched his brow as he walked into the darkened taproom, but he spotted Mara and worked his way toward her.

The Knight eyed the deep red drinks that still emitted a trail of smoke, but Keenan paid Ndrek and took the seat opposite Mara.

“I’ll buy you one of these awful things every day if you’ll help me whip the new Knights into shape.”

Mara took a long drink of her hellfire. “Tell me about their training program.”

She listened as Keenan talked.

When he paused, Mara nodded to Skyla. “If you’re really sending those kids outside of Tamryn, you need to teach them how to fight magic. And you need to put more than Dracor’s light on their side.”

“Work with the University of Arcane Arts?”

“What other mages do you have?”

“They’re not warriors. Can’t wear armor.”

“Skyla wasn’t wearing armor, and she lit up your cadets.”

Keenan glanced at the mage, and Mara could see his discomfort. Skyla had told her the history between her and Keenan, but it looked like there was a lot more interest on the Knight’s part than Skyla had imagined.

Kennan lifted his half-empty glass. “These things are terrible.”

Mara downed the rest of hers. “Didn’t come here for the drinks.”

“But you won the bet.”

Mara leaned across the table and dropped a key in front of him.

Keenan’s eyes saucered as he looked at the key and then up at Mara. “Are you propositioning me?”

Mara smiled. “No. We are.”

Playing in the Sandbox (Practice Part 1)

No, not my children’s sandbox. Too messy. We turned it into a water table for very good reasons.

I mean taking my characters for a spin in the sandbox of my imagination.

I have a character that has been knocking around in my head for sometime. You see her as an ancillary character in a few stories, but she’s never the love interest. I wanted to change that and write a story about her, but she’s very different from other characters I’ve written.

Having been allowed very little free will of her own for most of her existence, her morality is different. Her wants and desires are different. Her worldview is different. Not sure I’ll ever be able to write her as the heroine, but I want to try.

To help me better understand her, I wrote a short story from her point of view. The steamy scenes are very different than any of my other work, but I think it’s because she’s so much different than my other heroines.

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Practice

Mara swept the first young Knight’s feet out from beneath him and shoved him hard with her shield. He crashed to the ground, and before he could roll away, she hit his breastplate with her sword.

A second Knight charged her, but she pivoted, letting his momentum in full armor carry him past her. As he tripped over the first Knight, Mara hit his back with the flat of her sword.

Two kill shots. Both Mara’s. Anything but a training exercise, and the two Knights of Valor would be dead.

There was laughter and teasing from the sidelines, but a quick look from Mara silenced the other Knights. “How long will you survive in the eastern provinces?”

Knight Keenan helped the two younger men back to their feet. “We’re practicing. They’ll get better.”

“But not good enough.”

“Not all of us can be Sir Marcus,” the Knight Mara had tripped said.

Mara pierced the boy with her hard stare. “Sir Marcus spent his life training to fight a lich. You spent yours training to protect the safe streets of Tamryn.”

Knight Keenan cleared his throat. “We’ll practice again tomorrow.”

Mara looked over the assembled Knights, her gaze resting on each man in turn. “Anything you face in the eastern provinces will be alive because it’s survived worse than whatever haunts your nightmares. Do you think your enemies get knocked down during practice then toddled off to say a few prayers?”

The Knights stared back at her, and several of them were clenching their fists at their sides.

“Good. Get angry at me. Better angry than dead. Next lesson.” Mara motioned to a figure dressed in a plain brown cloak.

The woman walked over to Mara and bowed, then turned toward the Knights.

“Skyla,” Keenan said. “What are you doing here?”

“She’s going to help me demonstrate a lesson,” Mara said. “Are your healers out here?”

Keenan nodded toward Knight Matthias, but concern reflected in his pale green eyes. “Is this safe?”

“Less dangerous than sending out half-trained men.”

Knight Keenan glanced at Skyla then stepped back. “Be careful.”

Mara looked at the woman in the robes. Her rich brown hair was tied in a simple ponytail, and her large grey eyes seemed too big for her face. She was easy to underestimate as so many mages were.

“Just like we practiced,” Mara said.

Skyla nodded and moved several sword lengths behind Mara.

“Do you think your Knights can beat Skyla and me?” Mara raised a challenging brow at Keenan. “Or are you going to send them to their prayer vigil and hope Dracor gives them fighting skills?”

“I don’t want her to get hurt.”

“Not what I asked.” Mara smiled at the gathered Knights, a taunting expression meant to rile them. “Pick your best seven. If they can get three points in before I get a killing blow, you win and I will come back and help you train them until the new moon.”

Keenan glanced at the recruits and then back at Mara. “You called for a healer. What do you have in mind?”

“Don’t think seven of your Knights can get in three hits?”

“And if they can’t?”

“You owe Skyla and me a hellfire at Ndrek’s bar.”

“Seven against you and Skyla?”

Mara nodded.

“Until the new moon?”

Mara nodded again.

“They could really use the practice against someone with your skills. You’re sure Skyla won’t be hurt?”

“It’s not her you should be worrying about.”

Mara fell into her battle stance, and she felt Skyla building the first spell as seven young Knights took their positions opposite her.

Keenan signaled the start of combat, and Skyla let loose with the spell.

A wall of flames scorched the ground and rose up between Mara and the Knights. Mara ignored the fire, ducking her head as she charged through them and tapped the chest plate of one of the Knights. Pivoting, she tapped the chest plate of a second before any of them had recovered their wits enough to close their mouths.

The remaining five backed away from the fire and Mara’s blade. Just as she’d anticipated.

Skyla loosed her second spell, and the ground under the remaining Knight’s feet turned to mud.

Mara charged.

Slamming her shield into the first Knight’s sword, she shoved hard and sent him stumbling back then barreled into the second. Surprise widened his eyes, and when he tried to turn, he slipped in the mud.

Mara slammed his chest plate with her sword, and if it hadn’t been a practice blade, she’d have killed the Knight. Instead, she sent him into the mud with the first, who’s chest plate she tapped.

They’d hurt, but the bruises would bring home a lesson they wouldn’t forget.

The remaining three Knights extricated themselves from the mud as Mara circled around them. She smiled as one tried to flank her while the other two came at her. Sprinting towards one, she used her shield as a battering ram and knocked him to the ground as the second scored a glancing blow against her arm.

She pivoted and knocked his feet out from underneath him them hit his chest plate with her sword. Leaping over him, she tapped the Knight she’d steamrolled to the ground.

One Knight remained.

As he stood watching her, black vines shot out of the ground and encased his feet, rooting him there.

Mara circled around him, but he couldn’t turn to face her. She came up behind him and tapped the middle of his back.

There were growing whispers that the battle hadn’t been fair. That they hadn’t been warned.

Mara only smiled. “Combat isn’t about fair. Or justice. Or right and wrong. It’s about winning. In real combat, Skyla would’ve been using fireballs, flame clouds, and ice storms. Never under estimate a mage.”

“Good lesson,” Sir Leopold said. “Well done, both of you.”

Mara felt the High-Knight’s faded blue eyes fix on her. She met his stare, her face impassive even as her stomach clenched. Tall and broad, the only thing that belied his age was the silver in his hair and the rank insignia on his uniform.

She wondered again what he’d feel like beneath her and how hard he’d fight her for top. How much she’d relish that fight. The thought made her belly tighten.

Stabbing the thought and leaving it to bleed to death, Mara handed her practice sword back to Keenan.

She picked up her sword and wiped the soot from her cheeks. “One hit to seven kills. See you at Ndrek’s.”

Keenan only nodded as he checked on his men.

 

To Catch a Dragon (Part 4)

You can catch up on the story at Part 1Part 2 and Part 3.

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To Catch a Dragon (Part 4)

They followed the shoreline not sure what they were looking for. Perhaps another footprint. A scale. Or even a dragon bathing in the lake.

Instead, they found a handful of deer, a couple of moose, and even a flock of sheep. All which should have been tasty morsels for a dragon, but no such creature was tempted from the sky.

“Any people missing?” Ndrek asked as he glanced over his shoulder at the sheep.

“No. Livestock seem to be accounted for as well.”

“What I felt may not have been a dragon, but whatever it was, it was far more powerful than the lich Sir Marcus destroyed.”

Knight Kailis frowned. “Maybe you just drank too much ale.”

“It takes far more than Tamarian ale to make me fall down drunk.”

“Maybe it was spiked with something.”

“Let’s say it wasn’t spiked ale that knocked him out,” Vaiya said. “And, for the sake of argument, let’s assume it wasn’t a long dead dragon or elven arch mage. What does that leave?”

Ndrek thought for several long moments, then ticked each off his fingers. “A supremely powerful but untrained and undiscovered sorcerer. A magical relic of immense power. A dragon. An elven arch mage.”

“An untrained sorcerer would be hard to hide,” Vaiya said. “They tend to set themselves and those they love on fire while still in the cradle.”

“That leaves a relic.” Kailis frowned. “I suppose it’s possible.”

“And if true, very dangerous,” Ndrek said.

“We’ll spend the next couple of days searching for any additional clues and following any leads the locals can give us. If you sense that kind of magic again, I’ll send an urgent request for back-up to the Dragon Church.”

“And if not?” Ndrek said.

“Then I make a full report and let the Dragon Church decide. Not sure how much manpower they want to spend on this when they’ve got undead walking the streets in the eastern provinces.”

“I would not wish to return to the eastern provinces. Hard to believe, but the food is better here. So is the smell,” Ndrek said.

Knight Kailis shook her head and led them back to town.

 

Curiosity burned. Ndrek knew something was out there, something of immense power, but not necessarily hostile. If it were, Kelleran would already be dust.

Church protocol bound Knight Kailis, but it didn’t bind him.

He watched the Knight of Valor conduct the investigation with by-the-book precision, but they knew nothing more when they retired for the day than they had at the beginning.

Ndrek lay in bed and studied the whitewashed ceiling. There was something out there. He could almost feel a whisper of its power. Almost.

Perhaps it was his desire to find the source of the magic that he felt rather than anything else, but he had to know.

His companions were asleep when he slipped out of the inn. He didn’t bother with the invisibility or silence spells. If he did find the presence, such magic would be of no consequence to it.

A sliver of a moon lit his path, and Ndrek augmented it with a faint light spell. No point tripping over a rock, and if this was a dragon, it already knew he was coming.

The familiar patter of his heart fueled him, and Ndrek felt himself come alive. His hearing was sharper, his eyes keener, even his sense of smell heightened.

A dragon. An elven arch mage. Something was out there. Waiting for him.

It would’ve been wiser to wake Kailis or Vaiya, but he didn’t want to endanger them. He had to find the truth, but he wouldn’t let anyone but himself die for it.

Ndrek crested the last hill and saw Lake Meade sparkling in the faint light. A man stood shirtless beside the water. His skin was pale as new fallen snow, and his hair shimmered as it reflected the faint moonlight.

“I knew you would come.”

Ndrek’s magelight spell evaporated as the words rumbled over his flesh. The wizard swallowed back the metallic taste of fear as his entire body trembled.

“You are not the one I seek.” The pale man continued to stare across the lake.

“Who is?”

“I don’t know. I thought I felt her, but I no longer do.”

Ndrek said nothing as the water lapped the shore. He could feel whispers of the same magic pressing against him, but this time, the magic was contained. Wrapped in strong wards that even now were weaving ever tighter and locking away the power.

The man turned to look at him, and Ndrek felt the weight of a thousand mountains in those violet eyes. Millennia of loneliness, isolation, and longing seared Ndrek’s mind in the time it took a firefly to blink. In the same moment, Ndrek’s soul was laid bare, exposing everything he was and all he wasn’t.

The man turned back to the lake, breaking the link.

Managing to stay on his feet, Ndrek forced himself to breathe.

“Go. You will find no dragon here.”

Ndrek nodded and fled to the inn, never looking back.

 

Ndrek accompanied Knight Kailis and Priestess Vaiya as they spent seven more suns following leads and looking for signs of a dragon, mage, or relic. They found none.

When Kailis asked him over and over about what he’d felt the night they’d found him on the road, Ndrek deflected, saying that perhaps the innkeeper had given him a stronger drink. Or perhaps he’d reacted poorly to something in the rocks or soil.

Kailis didn’t believe him, but she eventually stopped asking.

Three days after they returned home, Ndrek swore under his breath as Sir Leopold tromped into his bar and dropped payment onto the counter.

The Knight pinned him with his faded blue stare that always saw more than Ndrek wanted. “Knight Kailis thinks you found something but won’t tell her.”

Ndrek collected his payment and dropped it into the folds of his cloak. “You will not find a dragon in Kelleran.”

“Not what I asked.”

Ndrek closed his eyes as the memories flooded him, and even in the quiet warmth of his bar, he shivered.

“You look like you saw a ghost.”

“Those are easy to deal with.”

“What did you find?” Leopold folded his arms and waited.

“Doesn’t matter. It didn’t find what it’s looking for.”

“And what was it looking for?”

Ndrek paused a moment. “I think its mate.”

“Then it’s gone for good?”

“I hope so.” But the prickle down Ndrek’s back warned it was an empty hope.

To Catch a Dragon (Part 2)

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You can catch up on the story here.

To Catch a Dragon (Part 2)

Ndrek watched the rolling hills of the Tamarian countryside slide past. The scent of green growing things and manure filled the air, and the afternoon sun was warm on his back.

Not much more exciting than tending his bar.

And he couldn’t practice any spells as it would spook his horse and probably his companions’ mounts as well.

Magic users were uncommon everywhere, but even more so in Tamryn. The few that did exhibit both desire and potential were trained at the lackluster University of Magical Arts where the Dragon Church could keep a close watch on them.

Ndrek was uncertain why so many Tamarians feared magic, but it did explain why he hadn’t been able to find a horse that magic didn’t bother. The beasts were too much like their owners.

He’d have to pay Mara handsomely to find him one, but he doubted she’d accept such an offer. No, she’d want a favor in return. That’s how her kind worked. Gold was too easy for her to come by on her own.

But that would have to wait for his return to Aerius.

In the meantime, Ndrek whispered a tiny spell to make the saddle more comfortable, and his horse stamped a foot and snorted.

“Told you not to cast any spells,” Knight Kailis said.

Yes, he would trade Mara a favor for a real horse.

Glancing across the idyllic farmsteads with their grazing animals, rich crops, and tended barns, Ndrek had to admit it was better than the last time he’d traveled with a Knight. The roads were tended, riding was easy, and there were plenty of inns along the way. There were also no undead wondering around, a blessing in itself.

“We’ll stop in the next town,” Knight Kailis said.

Ndrek glanced at the sun still well above the horizon. “We could make it to the town after that without difficulty.”

“Protocol says…”

Ndrek sighed loud enough to silence her. “Very well. We stop in the next town.”

Kailis glared at him, but said nothing the rest of the way to town.

As they rode into the village, Ndrek groaned when he saw that it looked exactly like the last five they’d stayed in. Sure, the houses were painted different colors, and there were different flowers in the planters, but the same Dragon Church surrounded by massive oak trees dominated the center of town. Merchant shops lined the main street, and an inn was tucked in the center of them.

As they entered the inn, it was clean and furnished with the same practical heavy wooden tables and chairs that were well-worn from use. A smattering of locals were already comfortably seated, mostly the elderly and very young.

Ndrek could smell a thick stew simmering that would be served with fresh bread for dinner. How he longed for a bowl of spiced meat stew so hot his eyes would water. Something to make his taste buds work again.

He settled for sitting down at the bar and listening to the hum of conversation.

Just as she had at the last five inns, Kailis showed the innkeeper her credentials and secured them a room, a meal, and fresh traveling supplies. And just like in the last five inns, the young Knight was soon surrounded by locals, all wanting news of the happenings in the capital city and stories of her adventures.

While Kalis obliged them with the same boring news she had in the past five towns, Priestess Vaiya tended to the sick or injured of the town.

He should be happy, relieved even, after everything he’d seen. No ghouls. No vampires. No zombies. Another perfectly normal, perfectly quiet Tamarian town.

It was enough to make Ndrek want to vomit.

He watched Knight Kailis talk to the locals as he drained his mug of ale. Decent stuff, but nothing like a Fire and Brimstone. After five days on the road with her, he needed something a lot stronger than ale.

Even after a day of riding, her strawberry-blonde hair was in the same tight braided bun so many female Knights wore. He wondered if they took a course in it so they all did it just right.

Ndrek snorted into his empty glass.

Of course they did. They all had to be the perfect protégés of Dracor.

Knight Kailis wasn’t awful, but she was everything that was wrong with the Knighthood.

He’d seen a glimpse of fire in her, a spark, back in her early days as a Knight. He’d thought she’d be different. Had expected her to shake up the place, but now, she was just like all the rest.

Perfect braids, the blue eyes so common in Tamryn, and pristine armor. She looked like a Knight, and she had the same polite but commanding tone they all used. Must’ve had classes in that, too.

The barkeep stopped over and offered to refill Ndrek’s glass, but he waved the man away. He’d had enough. Enough of beautiful Knights, following orders, and basking in boredom.

He was going to find this dragon.

Making sure Kailis was occupied with the locals, Ndrek flipped up the hood of his traveling cloak and walked out of the inn.

The night was cool, and the songs of frogs mixed with the chirping of crickets. He smiled as he realized some might consider the summer night hot, but they’d never suffered through the Qumarefi desert. Boredom was better than some things.

Still, he couldn’t imagine much that would be a challenge for him anymore. Especially not after his travels with Sir Marcus. But better to be safe than dead, and once Ndrek was at the edge of town, he cast an invisibility and silence spell on himself.

Time to see what the local smugglers knew about dragons.

Of course there were smugglers out here. They had to be more careful in Tamryn than in other places Ndrek had been, but that just made the rewards richer. And there were plenty of goods Tamryn outlawed that would be well worth the risk.

Following the road south, he looked for telltale signs when he felt a prickle on his skin.

Magic. Strong magic.

Stronger than anything he’d ever felt.

He stopped and strengthened his wards.

The magic increased from a whisper to a grinding pulse, pounding against him and driving into his chest. Into his heart. Into his head.

He tried to scream, but he could make no sound.

Ndrek fell to his knees as blood gushed from his nose and soaked the ground in front of him.

The magic intensified until spots danced in front on his eyes. Clutching his chest, he glanced towards the heavens, a prayer Sir Marcus had taught him on his lips, when a shadow glided over the trees.

As it drew closer, the darkness closed in on Ndrek and unconsciousness took him.

 

To Catch a Dragon (Part 1)

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As I’ve been working through my novels, I ocassionally take my characters on a “test drive” in different scenarios to see how they’d handle them, if there’s any chemistry, etc. I thought I’d share some of those on the blog. Let’s me do some character development, and gives you some (hopefully) fun short stories.

As always, comments are welcome.
To Catch a Dragon

Ndrek sat behind the bar, sizing up each of his mid-afternoon customers. Some had started drinking early, others had rented a room for the night and were just starting their day. Boredom itched.

Now was as good a time as any to start work on the new spell he’d discovered.

As he slid off his stool, the door to the bar opened and the man that entered had to stoop to get under the doorframe. His shoulders matched his height, and the gold dragon on his breastplate seemed to glow in the dim light.

The archetype for the Knights of Valor.

Sir Leopold grimaced at the sticky floor.

“To what do I owe this…” Ndrek paused. “Honor?”

The Knight leaned against the bar, his back to the wall as his faded blue eyes surveyed the tap room. “Don’t believe for a minute you’ve settled down as a barkeeper.”

“That is not what brought a High-Knight to my humble establishment. Perhaps you came for a Fire and Brimstone? My establishment is said to make the very best.”

Leopold looked at the pristine glasses behind the counter. “At least those are clean.”

“Too much cleanliness would scare away my best customers.”

Leopold’s eyes narrowed. “Not what I came to see you about, though I probably should.”

“What has brought you here?”

The Knight reached into his cloak and withdrew a sheaf of papers imprinted with the wax seal of the dragon church.

“A writ?”

“Interested?”

Ndrek sucked in a breath as he looked at the sealed documents. “You have an army of Knights blessed by Dracor Himself. Why would you have need of me?”

“We’ve been issuing more of them lately. Not enough Knights to oversee all of Tamryn and the eastern provinces.”

“Then you need more Knights.”

“That’s up to Dracor,” Leopold said.

Ndrek bit back his quip about fickle gods.

“Figuring you’re getting bored about now. This’ll keep you busy and out of trouble. Pay’s not bad either.”

Ndrek grinned and took the papers, but he frowned as he read them. “This is a goose chase, as you Tamarians say. Dragons have been extinct since before men walked these lands.”

“Locals of Kelleran don’t agree with that assessment.”

“A dragon.” Ndrek rocked back on his heels as he tried to wrap his brain around the thought. “Are you sure?”

“Nope, but that’s where you come in.”

“Would not the followers of the Dragon God Dracor wish to be first on the scene?”

“Already sent a contingent of Knights.”

“Let me guess. They did not return?”

“Of course they did. They didn’t see any dragons, and they didn’t find any proof that there’d ever been any.”

“Then why send me?”

“Found a few things that made some folks worry there might’ve been a dragon. Knights couldn’t tell if it was real or a hoax.”

“Would not the Knights know this best?”

“Dracor might take the form of a dragon, but dragons are magical beasts.”

“No wizard was with the team you sent?”

Sir Leopold shook his head.

“So you think I will be able to tell for sure.”

“That’s the reasoning, anyway.”

Ndrek looked at the bundle of papers, including the generous payout. Far more interesting than tending bar.

Sir Leopold pushed off the bar. “I’ll send Knight Kailis over. She was on the original expedition. And Priestess Vaiya.”

“Was she on the original expedition as well?’

“No, but I figure if you find a dragon, you might want the healing skills of Priestess of Thalia on your side.”

Ndrek frowned. “You think there might actually be a dragon.”

“Doesn’t much matter what I think. It’s what you find that counts. I’ll send Knight Kailis over in the morning.”

Ndrek watched the High-Knight leave and looked down at the papers in his hands.

If Sir Leopold thought it was a goose chase, he wouldn’t be sending Ndrek, a Knight, and a Priestess of Thalia to investigate.

Sir Leopold hadn’t become a High-Knight by being wrong.

 

Our Deepest Fears

I read an article in GQ of all places (I know, the depths of the internet I troll), that made a very interesting point on insults and fear.

When someone insults someone else, the insult is enlightening of the person giving it. For example, if Woman A calls Woman B fat, that tells us that Woman A does not find worth in herself unless she meets a certain body ideal.

Intelligence is another example.

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This is only insulting if you value intelligence. Clearly, the person who wrote this meme does. But this may not hold true for everyone. I know when I was in middle and high school, being intelligent, especially as a girl, was not highly valued (sad, but true).

The idea that an insult tells you more about the person delivering it makes a lot of sense to me, and it could be a great way to explore a character’s fears. Whether protagonist or villain, any insults they throw out would show what’s important to them.

Honor. Faith. Love. Monogamy. Whatever it is that your character views as important.

For example, in my work-in-progress, Knight of Valor, when a vampire insults the heroine and calls her weak, that’s really of reflection of the vampire’s own fear of not be able to do as her master commanded.When a necromancer calls the heroine a whore, it’s a result of his fear of her choosing another over him.

As I think through this, though, I also realize that the importance of the insult varies greatly on who is delivering it.

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Does the heroine care about being called weak by the vampire sent to retrieve her or a whore by the necromancer that wants her? Not at all. They simply don’t matter to her. This doesn’t generate action on her part because it doesn’t resonate with her values.

In Crowned Prince, the insult dynamic took a different turn when a very respected High Knight uses some subtle and some less-than-subtle insults on a power-hungry prince. But these tell us that honor, loyalty, and dedication are very important to the High Knight. The insults are also more meaningful because they’re coming from him, and the hero and heroine respond accordingly.

Not sure this will change my writing, but it does give me another way of looking at my characters. Another way of understanding them, developing them, and digging a bit deeper.

How about you? Any of your characters ever use insults?  Do they tell you more about them? Show you what the character fears?  Or does it give you insights into whoever is being insulted?