Monday, March 31, 2008

"Seabird" Prologue Pt.2

This is PART 2. Scroll down to the earlier post for the first part of the Prologue

"Seabird" Prologue Pt.2

Lit by occasional glimmers of Stream-light, Lord Thaddis faced the moisture-streaked left wall of the ancient passageway. No physical sign betrayed its presence, but the door to the sorcerers’ prison must be concealed there.

Thaddis was already talking, to the wall or to the somethings beyond or within it. “No, no one knows of my plans, or even that I’ve learned fragments of your Zexian spells. Just listen to me! I have researched it secretly for many years now, and I have brought all that is required.”

Thaddis gestured to the small huddled shadow close beside him. “Even this. All I need is your assent to my conditions.” He held up one finger, like a teacher admonishing his pupil. “Confirmed by your oaths to your overlord, Wenos Zex, of course.” Seeming to read acceptance in the answering silence, he continued, “I will set you free from your chamber if you will grant what I ask of you.”

“What do you ask of us?”

Nortis stifled a gasp at the sound of intertwined voices, the words spoken in the Elder speech but with inflections reminiscent of his master’s self-revealing incantation earlier. The sounds confirmed the location of the five-thousand-year-old prison for Rabada, Zabnar and their Sorcerer-King, Pazgar.

“I ... I ask only a small thing, in return for your freedom.” Nortis frowned, divining a subtle tremor in Thaddis’ voice. Doubtless, the imprisoned sorcerers perceived it as well. Could they use Thaddis’ fear against him? If they did, what would become of him and the Neroli woman?

“I wish to be king of the Tethran Elders.”

Nortis guessed that Lord Thaddis added details to that astonishing pronouncement but sharp barbs of cruel triple laughter shattered his words. Nortis stayed still with great difficulty, gleaning just enough courage to do so from the memory of the voice he had heard within the Stream. He still clutched the amulet, all the while marveling that Thaddis managed to hold his ground so close to the fabled prison and its denizens.

“Go on.” A quiet male voice prompted, the condescending softness edged with restrained scorn.

Two other voices prompted an echoed chant of, “Yes, please,” the mingled sounds more serpent-like than human.

“I will free you if you grant what I ask.” Lord Thaddis straightened and drew a great breath. Throwing back his hood, he spoke with renewed assurance. “Hear this! Permit the reigns of my children and grandchildren over all the Tethran Elders to be peaceful and undisturbed by your presence, and I will release you. My eldest is hid within Fiori even now, awaiting my signal that you have granted my request.”

“And you believe this son loyal? You believe he awaits your arrival?” Each syllable echoed the sadistic mockery of the prisoners’ earlier laughter.

Thaddis nodded. The passive response made Nortis wonder what his former master truly thought, to reveal his aspirations and be answered with such merriment.

For a few long minutes, the only sound was the swirl of the Stream. Thaddis waited, his eyes fixed forward, his hand twitching the rope of the bound Young One. Nortis considered leaving while he had the chance, only to feel the utter certainty that he had not yet borne witness to everything. Still, at some point, he would have to try to make his escape with the information he alone could provide to the Sephan dynasty of Tethra. Neither Thaddis nor the prisoners would allow witnesses. Nortis shifted his feet nervously but the three sorcerers were speaking again, their blended voices echoing and interrupting each other.

“Your favored son, his daughter and her brother will have a hundred years only.”


“Your grandson, Thalidor, will die an old man and a king. Even as the Tethran queen who sits upon the throne this moment, is old, having ruled many years.”

Thaddis shook his head but the softly vicious voices stopped any protest he meant to voice. “One hundred years, friend Thaddis. The Thorin dynasty takes power today, or not at all. Choose quickly!”

The sorcerer drew breath, and then nodded, expelling the air in a great sigh. “Accepted.” He gestured toward the wooden box, and its lid pivoted open. An iron candlestick and black candle floated out, followed by a knife fashioned from blood-red stone.

Nortis caught a muffled sob of horror from the bound Neroli. He took a half step in her direction with no clear idea what he intended to do. The same gentle voice stopped him at once. “No, child! She is mine. Go quickly back through my Stream. Wait for me.”

Nortis hurried to obey, nearly slipping on the steps from the tug of the Stream-tide before he realized he had yet to grip the narthrous stone chain. He gasped a hurried lungful of air and plunged down the remaining steps, then hastened forward as swiftly as the tug of the Stream-tide would permit.

He scrambled up the far staircase and stumbled a step or two down the passageway, finally coming to a halt. His body bent forward with his palms pressed to his knees, he drew in air--and tried hard not to think of what was transpiring on the far side of the Stream. Just as he was recovering, a shriek of agony swept from the Stream. He whirled in its direction, in time to see bright Stream-water froth across the bank toward him. Its blue-green hue was threaded with a dingy yellow, then sullen with the taint of long-dried blood. The screaming continued. It was coming from the midst of the Stream itself, and it was male, not the voice of the Young One. There were words in it, cries for help, half-muffled in the triple echo of taunting laughter.

One shriek of agonized betrayal rose even above the laughter. “What of your promise to make me king?”

Crazed laughter, cries of cruel triumph and taunting words vied with each other for dominance.

“You said that you wished to be king, yet did not ask us to make you king.”

“Only your children and grandchildren will rule Tethra.”

“That bargain will we keep.”

“No! How can this be? I’m not of the Shadow like you.”

“You were not when you entered here, but you are now. For you made common cause with us-” “… and performed the rites of the Shadow before us.” “Welcome, brother! One of us now, for a few moments.”

Black waters, tinged with iridescent red, swelled toward Nortis. He cried out and turned to flee before them down the passageway, only to stumble. A hand light as a feather touched his, steadying him ...

* * *

Nortis paused in his writing and held his left palm toward the dim lamplight. The seabird shape was etched into his palm and would remain so to the end of his days. He’d lost the necklace somehow when he had been touched. That didn’t matter now. His vision dimmed by tears, Nortis wrote the last few words on the scroll with an unsteady hand.

The soft patter of a light footfall warned him the messenger promised by his Neroli hosts was here. Swallowing at the familiar sound of the footsteps, he held back new tears. “She is mine,” the echoed memory of words whispered within him. Nortis sighed and nodded.

When the messenger entered the cabin, he turned toward him and murmured an apologetic “Almost finished.”

As he sealed the scroll tight, he reconsidered how best to keep it secret and safe on its journey to the Throne of Wisdom, far to the east. None of the shadow must learn of its existence. Rummaging through his few possessions in the small leather pouch by his cushion, he brought out his precious bits of the Book of Prophecy. Nortis sorted through them slowly. Which one?

Yes, of course. He wrapped the small fragment of the Ancient Writings tight about his account, then fastened it securely on all sides with the last remnants of the wax. One line of the writings shone softly in the dim light:

“From the meeting place of Wisdom, I come forth …”

Nortis whispered the next line of the prophecy: “From the place where goodness dwells serene.”

He handed the scroll and his instructions to the silent Young One, and watched him walk out the door as softly as he had entered. When the hundred years passed, who would read his account? Who would come to them? From where would they be sent?

Nortis pushed back strands of his straggling hair. How, in the last few hours, had it turned white? No matter. He had performed his part within the Obedience for good or ill. He drew a great breath of satisfaction and, focusing on the golden tongue of flame within the clay lamp, he began to speak to his divine overlord.

Earthbow manuscript Chapter One

Earthbow Chapter One (work in progress)
WARNING: Due to violence, content may not be suitable for all readers.

Cenoc mused that his host was sitting on his cushions as though they were filled with nails. A week's warning that he was arriving at this outpost for the next stop of his inspection tour should have been enough time for Sevris to prepare. But the actual presence of his 'fabled' self, the only victor ever over the Pannian sorcerers, the savior of Latimus, tended to make the sternest of his keep-masters apprehensive. He found the repeated scenario both amusing and frustrating.

Obviously seeking for a topic pleasing to his lordship, Sevris commented, "Lord Cenoc, I was ... perplexed when you ordered us to capture one of their party. But now, to bring a werewright up here? To speak with one of them?"

"A thought occurred to me with his capture. I've learned to think ahead, to make every situation pay. One of the reasons I rule Latimus, while you command this derelict keep." Noting the wince, he continued, "Your man was injured in the capture. Werewright blood in the wound? My sympathies. What did you call the remedy for the injury?"

Cenoc settled back on the red velvet cushions and looked across the low, tile-inlaid table at his host. Both had changed from their hunting attire as soon as they arrived back at the keep. The customary green parti-color satins and velvets were grimed now with dust and sweat, and the bloods of both humans and the attacking werewrights. Probably best burnt.

Sevris had replaced his satin hunting tunic with even more sumptuous, floor-length robes of green, then added chains and cuffs of precious bronze. In the near-lethal heat of midsummer, Cenoc could only marvel at his host's obeisance to proper attire. He, as was his custom, had changed to the same rust-colored tunic and mail which he wore into battle, but without the surcote. The only clothing in which he truly felt comfortable.

"Our herbalist calls it werebane, my Lord Cenoc. They're taking him in now to be treated."

"And only werebane will counter the effects of werewright blood?"

"Yes, my lord." A drop of sweat dangled briefly from the bottom edge of his mustache, then trickled across Sevris' lips to join its fellows in his trimmed gray beard.

Sevris might be of the old nobility, but no one would ever have known it. Cenoc's eyes traveled from the keep-master's dissolute face, to his pale skin and slight paunch. How long had it been since Sevris had had to deal with anything of more importance than the empire crop's yield? Looking to be a good one. His shares across this province as Lord of Latimus would go far toward wages and supplies for his surviving armies.

Sevris' eyes were locked just below the level of his own gaze, as he awaited a response. Cenoc let him wait.
Peace! Peace made a man soft... Indeed, it had made this whole southern province soft: keeps in disrepair, ill watch kept, bands of werewright cut-throats, even this room - richly decorated with tapestries and ancient banners of Sevris' ancestors. He glanced down. Even the stone floor was covered with a thick fleece-like cloth... decadent, wasteful... and unmilitary.

His gaze returned to the keep-master's apprehensive face. A small-hearted man, with no skill of command, no foresight. Here was one that wouldn't threaten his hold on Latimus.

Cenoc smiled unpleasantly and noted that Sevris shivered.

"Tell me more of this werebane, Sevris."

Half-listening while the man talked, Cenoc pursued his own line of reasoning. That same lack of imagination also meant that he might be getting less out of this shire than he should be. This was rich agricultural land, with the perfect climate to support empire shrubs. The tax records didn’t reflect that. Sevris neither knew how nor where to squeeze the last drop out of an opportunity. Perhaps, he should be replaced... Cenoc tucked the possibility away for later consideration. He noted with satisfaction that Sevris seemed to guess his thoughts. So much the better. That might wring some usefulness out of him yet.

"How do you expect to make the capture of a werewright pay? They're best dead, before they can call the spirits of the Shadow to their aid. You've made a dangerous prisoner, my lord."

"He shall find that his captor is more dangerous still. But first, I'm parched." Cenoc paused in reaching for the wine bottle. "Do you fear the Shadow sorcerers, Sevris? They've been dead for thousands of years. I never thought you a superstitious man."

"Me? Oh, no... of course not. But sometimes, ignorant warriors can be superstitious..." Sevris' voice trailed off.

He was doubtless remembering too late Cenoc's own past as a common warrior in the old king's guard.
Cenoc surveyed himself through Sevris' eyes. Gray-haired now, but finally the Lord of Latimus, he still possessed the bearing of a fighting man... and the skills. Born of low degree, he had spent decades training his every expression and word. His face had long since acquired the arrogance, and his voice the quiet forcefulness, of command.

But one of his favorite weapons worked best at table or during close inspection -- a cold grimness in his gray eyes ... and, right now, more than a hint of disapproval.

With servants banned from the room, Sevris himself reached forward to refill Cenoc's goblet and, after a moment's hesitation, his own. Returning to a safer topic, he asked, "But what do you hope to gain by keeping him alive and ordering him brought up here?"

"Sometimes, one must spread one's nets wide to make a catch. ...Ah, here he is now." Cenoc turned to the bound prisoner and the guards who stood in the doorway. "Seat him here.

" He gestured to the patch of floor across the table from their cushions. " Palis! Stay just outside the door. Dismissed."

Cenoc gazed curiously at his prisoner. The creature still had its black cloak on with its hood in place. It was slightly smaller than a man, shorter at least, though the folds of the cape's dull material curved over what seemed dense muscle. All that could be seen of the werewright's features was the fanged wedge-shaped mouth, twisted into a permanent grin... like the hideous, vacant smile of a skull.

Why had no one ever exterminated these creatures? Werewrights had dwelt in these south marches and in other lands of Narenta, some said, since the Elder race first appeared in the ancient past. ...Indeed, they were said to be Elders themselves, but of hideous aspect, the product of Wenos Zex's own deep sorcery.

Wenos Zex. Shadow overlord. Cenoc snorted in contempt: Fairy tales. These southerners would have learned about the reality of true evil, if he'd ever allowed some of the Pannians to slip through.

He quietly drew his sword and leaned forward across the round table. The werewright tensed as the blade approached. _Idiot. Would I go to all this trouble, just to kill you?_ Cenoc caught the front of the black hood with his sword point and flipped it back.

Beside him, Sevris was reaching for the decanter again, this time with a trembling hand.

As hardened as he was by years of battle and secret murder, Cenoc was caught off guard by the creature's gaze, if only for a moment. Something seemed to look through the slitted dark red eyes under the protruding V-shaped brow… Nonsense! The thing was merely glaring.

The reptilian werewright hissed in amusement at his reaction, but Cenoc was back in control at once. He turned to Sevris, and away from the prisoner's gaze. "Now you will see first-hand what I spoke of earlier."

Cenoc placed the point of the sword against the prisoner's yellow-scaled throat. "What reason can you give for not being killed at once?" Cenoc's steely eyes narrowed. "How can keeping you alive be of service to me?"

The prisoner considered the question only for a moment, then answered in the repulsively-silken voice of his race, "You should keep me alive for the information with which I was entrusted. You rule all the land of the Elder in Latimus. Would you like a wider kingdom and power over other lands?"

Ah, this was more like it! Without turning from the werewright, Cenoc spoke, "You see, Sevris. Sometimes you hardly need to spread the net at all and the fish swims in. Speak on, werewright."

* * *

The drummers and dancers were skilled enough, but the pipers were close to setting his teeth on edge. Thralls were clearing away the last of the supper dishes in the great hall. Cenoc had played the honored guest long enough and, besides, they had yet to perform a little test he wanted done. He leaned forward, nodded, and pounded applause on the table during a lull in the performance. In the uncertain silence that followed, Cenoc commanded that Alarz be brought into his presence.

By now, his guards would be glad to be rid of him – he'd ordered Alarz unbound when he was taken from the east tower. Even detained in a locked room, they doubtless had worried the werewright would disappear leaving nothing but the scent of brimstone to mark the end of his visit to the land of the living.

"Now?" Sevris sat up beside him, brought back to his senses perhaps by the sudden silence from the musicians.
Cenoc's smile disappeared at the sight but, fueled by much less wine, his own wits were performing little better. He'd asked for the one ingredient for their experiment and nearly forgotten the other. Casting his mind over the day's events, he remembered the infraction of a Young One scullery thrall. Proper punishment and a handy subject. That would do nicely. He called his ever-vigilant officer, Beroc, to him with a gesture and gave him his orders.

The timing was working out well enough. Beroc and one of his men had barely left to secure the scullery thrall, when here came the werewright, fairly leading his relieved guards into the hall. Obviously, the prisoner had made no effort to escape as they accompanied him. And Sevris had thought it impossible to work with werewrights.

Guiding Alarz to a position a couple of yards from Cenoc's seat at the head table, the guards saluted with their fists and prepared to leave. Cenoc called them back. Palis and the other - what was his name? - deserved to be a part of this. Theirs had been a strange duty.

"Stay. I have a small entertainment planned."

The one guard grinned at the other as they took places to one side. Cenoc approved their anticipation. Such entertainments had helped sustain many of his following through long years of brutal war.

After a brief bow and nod, the werewright stood his ground with an air of confidence that, he suspected, few of the onlookers felt they could have matched under the same circumstances. Impudent. Well, things were not always as they appeared. Almost ready for his little test. Just one or two small matters to deal with.

"Alarz! Welcome!" Cenoc picked up Sevris' goblet and poured out its contents. "We require that one more thing of you now. I'm sorry not to have mentioned the particulars during our earlier talk."

Alarz' eyes darkened from an amused red to the grim hue of dead blood. He gave a sharp nod, then yanked on the rust-black of his tunic sleeve.

"Sevris. If you would be so good." Cenoc handed the empty cup to the thunderstruck keep-master. "This should hold a sufficient quantity. You've had enough for this evening in any case."

Sevris gaped at his lord with bleary eyes. At Cenoc's impatient shake of the vessel, he reached forward and took it, staring at it in turn as if Cenoc had just handed him some rotten entrails. Cenoc had a great deal of trouble refraining from rolling his eyes. Blast the time wasted with those pipers. Was the man already too far gone to even deal with a simple task? Or, maybe he just had no stomach for it? The faces of his closest men tended toward the second opinion – and wasn't that a fine thing for a keep-master? 'Should be replaced' became a firm 'will be replaced'.

Sevris had managed to stand. With his hand resting on his sword hilt, he walked unsteadily to the center of the room.

The only words to be heard were spoken by the werewright. "What does he intend, Cenoc? We have an agreement. Beware of breaking such an arrangement with those of the Shadow."

"Peace, Alarz! This is a small matter and will take but a moment of your time. Sevris! Get on with it."

Weaving a little and focusing on the werewright with difficulty, Sevris drew his sword. Cenoc swore. A knife would be more practical. Was the man an incompetent fighter as well? He muttered through clenched teeth, "Your dagger, Sevris. It's not a bucket."

The spectators who had seemed puzzled by all that had gone before, now broke into speech. This was something they understood. Several, seeing Sevris' condition, hastened to wager on the outcome. Cenoc started to shout new orders to the keep-master, then forbore. Too late. The man was incapable of hearing him, and he would not give observers a chance to see his orders ignored. Well, they could always trap another werewright if Sevris botched this.

Much to Sevris' evident discomfort, and the amusement of the warriors, the werewright whipped off his cloak to wind it as a shield about his forearm, then suddenly produced a dagger seemingly out of nowhere. The eyes of his ghastly face burned with a deadly challenge as he turned to face the keep-master. Many stalwart knights and men-at-arms whispered to each other at the sight of that misshapen face and those taloned, claw-like hands. Cenoc was pleased to see brief consternation replaced by arrogant disgust.

Sevris' first blow was parried by the werewright's cape. As he struggled to free the sword point, the keep-master left his side vulnerable to the dagger. The unexpected pain of a shallow cut sobered him into a cautious retreat. He glanced at the slow drip from the cut, snarled, and attacked more viciously. The creature dropped and tumbled into a roll as skilled as the movements of the dancers. Sevris' blade sliced through air feet above him.

Amidst catcalls, the voice of one of Cenoc's guards rose above the others, "Lord Sevris, you're supposed to fill the goblet with his blood, not yours."

Sevris ignored the comment and the ensuing laughter. Soon his powerful strokes began pushing Alarz back toward the high table. His sword flicked through the heavy folds of the wound cape, leaving a long gash on the werewright's shield arm. Unable to raise it to defend himself, the prisoner twisted one way then the other to at least get out of the corner into which Sevris was forcing him. At last, Sevris landed a solid blow to the broad torso below the ribs. The werewright cried out and fell to his knees, his dagger skidding across the stone floor.

After a moment, he staggered to his feet, one taloned hand clutching the wound through which greenish-black blood welled. The stench of it was in the air, but Sevris made no move to fill the goblet.

Turning to face Cenoc, Alarz grasped the table edge for support. "Beware, human, if this is the manner in which you keep your promises."

Cenoc shrugged, "Lord Sevris was a tad enthusiastic, but you shouldn't have obstructed his attempt to obey my command. We wished only a sample of your blood for a little experiment. I said it would only take a minute of your time. Do not blame me if you insisted on resisting Sevris' attempt at the operation."

The werewright smiled a ghastly smile that made even Cenoc shudder inwardly. "But I do blame you. Let Mexat be my witness."

A quiet murmur of consternation swept the length of the hall at that name, and then an uneasy silence. Cenoc noticed the evening had become chill.

Alarz pointed a taloned forefinger at Cenoc and went on, "You have broken your agreement with the Shadow. Mexat shall see that I am revenged... You will never rule beyond your present bounds, and though you search the limits of this land, the Stones of..."

As the werewright spoke, Sevris was creeping up to him from behind. Raising the sword cautiously, Sevris slashed off the werewright's head, before Cenoc could prevent it. Dark blood splattered across floor and table but Cenoc merely pulled back in distaste, and commented, "Clumsy, Sevris... and wasteful. We needed only a few drops and now you've killed him."

Sevris was weaving now from more than the wine. He stifled a moan of terror at the sight of midnight green stains on his tunic. His eyes reminded Cenoc of a day's dead fish's, as he tried to focus on Cenoc's face.
"Didn't you want him dead? He was starting to talk about..."

"Peace, Sevris! Your mouth runs as much as his did. Would you like the same cure?"

"But why did you want him alive now?"

Ignoring Sevris' question, Cenoc turned to his aide, "Bring the keep-master back to his seat... You!" He pointed a finger at the closest man-at-arms in Sevris' livery. "Fill that goblet before the blood dries. And someone get a handful of that werebane."

He turned back to his host as Sevris sank awkwardly unto the cushions by his side. "It appears that you've splashed yourself quite thoroughly, Sevris."

Sevris looked down at his spattered robes of green and wiped at them ineffectually with one hand. He looked back up, silent terror in his eyes, and asked again, "Why didn't you want me to kill him?"

Cenoc gazed at his host distastefully, "I told you earlier. He would have served as a deterrent."

Sevris smiled happily, "I remember. Keep him alive and you'll always have wereblood handy to keep rebels and renegades in line... Cenoc, I feel strange."

Cenoc studied the keep-master, and snorted. He called to the page who was just leaving for the werebane. "Wait! Have someone help you carry Lord Sevris to his apartments. Then get the werebane. Looks like he needs it. You'd better summon Mittlis to deal with his cut."

He nodded in response to the startled youth's repeated nods, then shooed the page out with one impatient hand. Where was Beroc with that scullery thrall? Time for the next step.

"Seabird" Prologue pt.1

"Seabird" Prologue pt.1

Prologue – “Into the Place of Three Tombs”

“We won't need any more torches.” The old enchanter gestured toward the sparkle of blue reflecting off the cavern walls ahead. “Stream light will serve to guide us now."

Nortis bowed toward Lord Thaddis, then dropped the new torch he had just retrieved back into the moldy wooden chest by the wall. The partially-spent torch in his other hand cast sporadic light along the rough stone passage, picking out seepage paths and ice-edged pools underfoot. Nortis checked the rope knotted about his arm and examined the bonds on their prisoner’s slender wrists. As she strained away from him, little puffs of vapor escaped from under her voluminous hood, marking her rapid breaths.

She murmured, "Please! You're in peril! He isn't-"

Nortis fumbled for his dagger in alarm. He hissed a furious, "Silence!" intending to add more, but the telltale quaver of the single word convinced him that was pointless. Could there be any action borne of more folly than threatening a sorcerer, even one bound?

"What did she say?" Thaddis was already several yards ahead of them, the enchanter's bent silhouette defined more by the blue glow ahead than by the flickering torchlight.

"J-just 'Please!’. And I think she started to threaten me. Or us."

"Hmph! She can't harm us, Nortis. Trust me." Lord Thaddis turned and resumed walking toward the glimmering Stream.

Nortis used his forearm to blot his sodden leather sweatband. Then, drawing a determined breath, he nodded and tugged the rope.

Why had he told the enchanter only some of her words? He shook his head. Everything was confused - not as it should be. Though he loved and revered his master, he yearned to be finished with this task. To return to their home in the northern forest, the enchanter in his study and he taking care of his lord's needs and his modest retreat.

In all his travels, he had never visited a prison chamber devised for sorcerers, nor had he ever had charge of a follower of Wenos Zex. How vulnerable and fragile the bound Neroli female looked as she walked beside him. Who would think such malevolence could be spell-cloaked so thoroughly? Why did she keep up the pretense even now? What had she meant about ‘peril’? And the words, ‘He isn't’. Who? Lord Thaddis? He isn't what? Would to Alphesis he had let her finish her words!

And finish a spell of destruction as well? No, not possible. Thaddis said she couldn't harm them.
He was one of the Alphesaic Order sworn to defend the land from all forms of evil. That should be all the assurance he needed. It wasn't. Not today. Peril? The prisoner could easily guess that. Their peril would only increase when they reached the prison - home already to three Zexian sorcerers. Between parallel Streams was the hidden door Thaddis would have to open in order to incarcerate this newest offender. Could one or more of the prisoners get out during that brief time, and overcome his master?

Since his left hand no longer held a second torch, Nortis thrust it within the pocket of his woolen jerkin and gripped the silver amulet he had hidden there. With his fingers pressing the sacred seabird hard against his palm, he hurried toward the great Stream. The soft footfall of the Young One whispered beside him, but Nortis counseled himself to refrain from looking towards her. If she spoke again, he simply wouldn't listen.

As the enchanter drew closer to the sparkling blue light of Alphesis' Stream, he paused and lifted the five-sided wooden box he was carrying until it was above his head.

Nortis drew a breath, anticipating the chime-like language of blessed enchantment he had heard on a few precious occasions. Thaddis glanced toward him. Then, muttering guttural words mixed with hisses and whistles, he tossed the box upward as if aiming it at the rough-chiseled ceiling.
Nortis shuddered at the hideous sounds coming from his master's lips -- sounds only Zexian sorcerers would speak. This was nothing like the language of enchantment. Like the slow unfolding of a nightmare, his master's cloak darkened from enchanter blue to sorcerer dead black. Horror ripping through him, Nortis stared at the colorless cloak. This was no trick of the light, no shadow cast by Stream-light. And those sounds. He isn't, she had said. The sudden proof of his master's change in allegiance seared his mind.

Nortis collapsed against the icy wall for support. Loosed by his shaking fingers, the remaining torch clattered on the stone floor of the passageway. As the torchlight sputtered and died, Nortis saw Thaddis plainly for the first time. He had lied to himself even more thoroughly than Thaddis had lied to him. How could he have ignored the peculiar sounds behind locked doors, the scrolls whisked out of view when he entered the enchanter's study -- so many warning signs, so many hints about what his master had become? Too late now.

Thaddis, the sorcerer Thaddis, glanced back toward him and demanded, "Nortis! I told you to forget the torches. Bring the prisoner here. Quickly!"

Nortis pressed himself even harder against the chill stone at the brief glance, but Lord Thaddis was already facing the floating box and the Stream just beyond it. Lifting his hands again, the sorcerer spoke once more in Zexian chant, then thrust outward with his hands, palms forward. The waiting box ceased its hovering and obediently floated away from the bank out over the flowing stream light. Muttering in approval, Thaddis nodded as the box proceeded on its slow journey toward the far bank of the Stream.

Nortis scrabbled at the wall for balance. Cold malevolence flowed past him-Lord Thaddis striding toward the prisoner in his keeping. His knees seeming to melt, Nortis collapsed onto the cold stone floor. He barely felt the rope being loosed from about his arm.

"Get up!"

Thaddis drew away, this time accompanied by the soft patter of a second set of footfalls. Yanking on the rope of the whimpering prisoner, Thaddis called over his shoulder, "Come along, Nortis! Or I'll give them two instead of one!"

Nortis scrambled to his feet. His fingers and palm a solid fist about the amulet, he tottered toward the blue-green Stream ahead. Its light dazzled him, even though the brilliance was partially cloaked by the two figures standing between him and the bank. He noticed that Lord Thaddis had his hood pulled low over his eyes. He had done the same thing earlier that day, complaining of the sunset glare when they left the trees of Kolora behind and before they entered the cavern. Nortis forced down the groan of guilt that throbbed in his throat. While he had wondered about his lord’s gesture, he had been more occupied watching for a threatening gesture from the prisoner. No. He just hadn't chosen to admit what it all meant. After all, Lord Thaddis had been kind to him. For his own purposes, he reminded himself. He was daemagos, a sorcerer. His grip on the amulet was so tight the sharp edges of the silver seabird wings were cutting into his palm and fingers. He had only one hope left. Not even daring to move his lips, Nortis voiced a silent cry for help to Alphesis.

He needed to do something, but what? How could he leave the Young One female a prisoner in the sorcerer's hands? It was so obvious now that she could have done nothing so evil it required her imprisonment between the twin Streams. Lord Thaddis must need her for a ritual. What kind of-

Nortis' thoughts stopped abruptly with his steps. He was at the very edge of the Stream. Thaddis and the Young One were somewhere ahead, hidden beneath the flowing blend of water and light so vital that the Ancients called it Living Water.

Nortis started down the broad steps, his feet, his calves and then the lower part of his thighs caught in the fierce swirl and eddy of vibrant light. He grasped the crystalline blue link chain that crossed the Stream from bank steps to bank steps, and took a great breath. Then he stepped forward briskly, continuing down the steps until his head followed the rest of him into the glorious swirl.

He felt the touch of the water calm him, as he struggled towards the other bank of the Stream. His thoughts slowed their frantic scurry through his brain -- slowed, clarified, focused. He didn't have the strength to stop a sorcerer. Only an enchanter could challenge one of them. He might, possibly, be able to get the Young One free. Strategies for freeing her played out in his thoughts, and he knew with a crushing certainty that even that was beyond him. But he had to do something besides follow the daemagos meekly and watch him perform...

"Watch and remember."

The gentle voice seemed to come from the surrounding water, or from inside his head. Only the water swirling against Nortis' nose and mouth prevented him from gasping. The chain was tilting upward and his right foot found the first step of the submerged staircase leading up to the inner bank of the Stream. With an unconscious nod of awed acceptance, Nortis climbed up the steps and gasped a lungful of air.

The sorcerer and his prisoner were a few yards further down the inner passageway. Nortis took a few steps away from the Stream's bank, then felt himself stop. This time his failure to continue wasn't due to fear. He knew himself to be in the right place. He stood. He listened...

Friday, March 28, 2008


Narentan Tales will be a repository of extracts from "Seabird" which is currently available via Amazon, Barnes & Noble & by special order at your brick & mortar bookstore.

Support your local bookstore, or soon it won't be there to support!

Just to confuse everyone, I'll slip in the occasional extract from "Earthbow" in the hopes you'll comment on how terrible it is so far. "Earthbow" is the sequel to "Seabird" and it's the manuscript that I'm currently revising for Dave at Gryphonwood.

Since I won't be able to resist it, please resign yourself to seeing my commentary about writing the books, my individual characters, what it was like hunting for a publisher and all that "good stuff" (good, once it's over).

I'll try to color-code the Seabird / Earthbow extracts vs the commentary to keep your confusion to a minimum. Except on April Fool's Day. You've been warned.

If you would like me to write about anything in particular, ask. Please come and hang out with me, and please comment!

In the Remembrance,


And buy many, many copies of "Seabird". You need many, many copies of "Seabird".