A Different Snippet: Sword of Arelion

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I know I owe you the next installment of Russian Nights, but I’m going to delay it a bit. Instead, because the first two books in the Sword of the Gods trilogy are now available wide, here’s a sample from the first book, Sword of Arelion.

The old man sat before the fire, head bent, eyes closed. His chin rested on one upraised fist. The other hand, gnarled fingers loosely curled, rested on the table top. At first glance, he appeared to be dozing, oblivious to everything going on around him.

The fire crackled loudly and sparks flew as the logs collapsed onto the grate. At the same time, the old man started and his head jerked up. Rheumy blue eyes, too alert for him to have been sleeping just a moment before, scanned the room. For a moment, his gaze seemed to rest on the one unfamiliar face in the tavern before moving on. Then, as if he knew he had nothing to worry about, he pushed a lock of long, gray hair from his weather-worn face. With a heavy sigh, he once more lowered his head onto his fist and closed his eyes.

Intrigued, Fallon studied the old man from across the room. When Fallon first arrived at the tavern almost an hour earlier, the common room had been crowded with men, and a few women, in search of a mid-day meal or drink. They had gathered around the long, cluttered tables, voices loud and raucous, especially when they called for service. But not once had they complained about the old man sitting by himself at one of the few small tables near the fire. Instead, they greeted him respectfully, beaming proudly if he returned their greetings—which he almost always did.

Tipping back his chair, Fallon stretched his long legs before him with a weary sigh. He should get back on the trail. Kirris would be more than a little displeased if anything delayed his mission, not that Fallon could blame him. The information he carried could save the lives of many by preventing a civil war from breaking out and tearing Cartesia asunder. All he had to do was get it to the Order. Its leadership would make sure the right people were warned.

Yet there he sat, torn between the need to follow orders and something else, something he had yet to identify. Something had drawn him here and he knew he needed to find out what. But did he dare tarry much longer, knowing what depended on him completing his current mission? He had seen nothing untoward so far. Could he be wrong? Or worse, could this be some sort of trap designed to delay him?

Gods above and below, he wished he had the answer.

Two hours earlier, he had been on the trail. He had not planned on stopping, at least not until his mount needed to rest. He most certain had not planned on leaving the trail and going into town. The key to successfully completing his mission was anonymity and the best way to accomplish that was to not be around others. Prying eyes and probing questions were the enemy of any courier. That was one of the first lessons he learned after joining the Order. After all, there was always someone willing to pay the right price for information and that, Fallon knew, could lead to death—or worse—not only for the courier but also for those his information could protect.

Still he sat in the dark, smoky tavern, unsure of what brought him there. All he knew for sure was that the closer he had come to town, the stronger the call to leave the trail. There had been no denying the pull, the need to follow his instincts. Someone or something needed the sort of help only a Knight of Arelion could give. He just didn’t know who—or why—yet.

So he sat and waited, the sense of urgency just as strong and just as unexplained as it had been on the trail.

He had no doubt Kirris would have his head, figuratively at least, for leaving the trail. Of all the towns Fallon could have ridden into, it had to be this one. Luck, good or ill, had brought him to New Grange. Not only was it the largest town for miles around, sitting at the intersection of several major trade routes, but it was also the capital city of the duchy of Lineaus. That alone increased the chances someone would realize what, if not who, he was and that almost insured they would ask questions he would not, could not answer.

Frowning, Fallon tugged at the sleeves of his rough woolen coat. Because his mission required secrecy, he wore homespun tunic and thick wool trousers under his coat. His sword hung in a well-worn leather scabbard from an equally worn leather belt. He had taken great care to make sure nothing about his outward appearance betrayed his association with the Order. He prayed that did not come back to haunt him.

Time was not on his side. If he didn’t soon learn why he had felt compelled to come here, he would have to leave. He didn’t like it, but he had no other choice. His mission was too important to delay on the off-chance something might happen here. Not that he liked it, not when the feeling that this was where he was needed was so strong.

Movement to his left caught his eye and he turned his head toward it. The serving wench he had seen earlier shoved the kitchen door closed with her foot as soon as she entered the common room. One hand carefully balanced a small tray holding a plate of food and a battered tankard. She reached out with the other hand to snag a rag from the end of the bar. As before, she did not look up, did not appear to make eye contact with anyone.

Nothing about her looked out of the ordinary, at least not for a place like this. When she served Fallon earlier, she had almost faded into the background. The furniture had been more in the present than had she. Frowning, Fallon watched as she moved across the room. No one seemed to pay her any mind. It was as if they didn’t realize she was there.

Fallon swallowed hard and continued to watch. His heart beat a little faster. This wench was why he had felt compelled to come here. He knew it just as surely as he knew she was no ordinary serving wench, not when she all but shimmered with a power so strong and untamed every instinct called for him to take her in hand before someone got hurt.

Dear Gods, was she one of them or had she been put there to be his downfall?

Forcing himself not to react, Fallon quickly reinforced his mental shields. Then he once again turned his attention to the source of such surprising power. Like so many serving wenches in all too many taverns, she looked unremarkable to the naked eye. She shuffled around the common room, head bent. Hair, dark as night either from natural color or filth, hung in oily hanks, obscuring her features. Her clothes were little more than filthy rags, something he had not realized earlier. To the casual observer there was nothing, absolutely nothing remarkable to her.

But to the inner eye. . . .

He couldn’t call attention to himself, Fallon reminded himself. He didn’t know who the girl was or how she had come to possess such a strong yet untrained power in this of all places. So he rested his elbows on the table and schooled his features into what he hoped the others would see as nothing more than bored curiosity as he watched the scene unfold. He had a feeling if he failed in that simple task, the girl would be on her guard once again and any chance he had of finding out what was going on would be gone.

That was the very last thing he wanted. Every fiber warned of trouble, a trouble that centered on the girl. Her aura screamed of fear and pain. But without attempting a reading—something he wouldn’t do unless he became convinced she was in immediate danger—he could not tell what the trouble was or how deeply it ran.

That left him only one choice. He had to remain in New Grange until he got to the bottom of whatever was going on. He would have to find another way to get the information he carried to the Citadel.

“Master Longbow.” The girl spoke softly and dropped to one knee at the old man’s side. “Sir.” This time she placed a light hand on his where it rested on the tabletop.

The old man lifted his head and turned his rheumy blue eyes on her. “Eh, child? What is it?”

“Sir, I brought you something to eat and drink.” She placed the plate and small tankard on the table before him.

“No, lass, though I thank you for your kindness. But I will not let you get into trouble because of me.” The old man tried to push plate and tankard back to her. “I know Giaros has sworn to punish you should you try to help me again.” Longbow’s expression hardened, revealing a strength that surprised Fallon. “He might not be able to prevent me from coming here without bringing down the wrath of our liege lord but he can punish you as I know he has in the past.”

Fallon listened, his sense of unease increasing. With each moment that passed, the more convinced he became that something was very wrong. Most tavernmasters would not care if their servers gave away food of their own. They most definitely would not punish the server for doing so. If that had been happening, it might explain why the girl’s mental shields had been so tightly in place. But it did not explain why she had lowered them now.

But that wasn’t the only difference. Before, she had said nothing more than necessary to do her duties. Not once had Fallon seen her make eye contact with anyone. Now, with Longbow, she suddenly, unexpectedly seemed more sure of herself. There was no doubt that she was more determined. The steely glint in her hazel eyes as she tried to convince the old man to eat belied a strength of character that surprised Fallon.

By all we hold holy, who is this child and why has she gone untrained?

Fallon shook his head. That was a question to be asked and answered later. A much more important question had to be answered first.

How had she come to be in Lineaus, a realm where those who possessed any sort of special talents were sent away—or worse?

“Please, Master Longbow. There will be no trouble for me. My master is away from the tavern. Besides, there is naught he can complain of. This is mine by rights, given by Cook for my mid-day meal,” she assured the old man.

Even so, Fallon caught the way she glanced nervously over her shoulder in the direction of the tavern entrance, as if making sure the master she spoke of was nowhere to be seen.

Fallon watched the exchange in growing concern. While none of the few who still lounged over the remnants of their mid-day meal made any attempt to insert themselves into the conversation, he saw several nod, whether in agreement or approval, he didn’t know. That was another indication that they held this Longbow in high regard despite his well-worn clothing. Could the old man have been a loyal member of either the royal household or the Duke’s Company in his younger days? As such, he could not be harmed or slighted without bringing the wrath of the duchy’s current ruler down on the head of the offender. That would explain Longbow’s comment at least.

But that didn’t explain the girl. Now that he’d had the chance to study her, Fallon realized she was younger than he first thought. Certainly, she had yet to see her eighteenth winter. Even so, she was taller and thinner than most from this realm. Her voice was light and held a musical lilt that also seemed to confirm that she was not originally from this part of the Imperium. There most definitely was more to the girl than met the eye.

“Child, please. This is your meal. Do not give it away,” Longbow said.

“Master Longbow.” She pushed the plate back toward him. “I have heard the tales of how you saved the royal family when the raiders of the Black Web invaded. That alone is enough to give you the respect the duke has ordered. My master is wrong to treat you as he does. So please, take this. A few missed meals will harm me none and will do you a great deal of good.”

Before anything more could be said, the tavern door flew open with a resounding bang. Instantly, the girl spun in the direction of the sound. Fear flickered across her expression before disappearing behind an impassive mask. Then she bent her head, her dark hair falling so it hid her expression. As she hunched her shoulders, Fallon frowned. Gone was the girl who had tried to help Longbow. More telling was the sudden dampening of the power Fallon had felt emanating from her. Had she thrown her shields up on purpose or had it been instinct?

Forcing himself not to react, Fallon shifted slightly on his chair. Now he could watch not only the girl and Longbow but the newcomer as well.

A short, burly man with thinning blond hair and scraggly beard stalked across the room. His bare arms were heavily muscled. There was a cruel, angry glint in his light blue eyes as he closed the distance between himself and the girl and Longbow. Watching him, all but tasting the bitter darkness of his aura, Fallon had no doubt he presented a grave danger to both the girl and Longbow. But how could he respond without interfering in what, to this point, was simply a matter for the local authorities?

“I thought I told you not to serve this old fool unless you saw the glint of his coppers!” The man swept plate and tankard from the table with an angry snarl that had the girl stepping back, fear radiating off of her. “It is not my duty to feed useless old men who should long be dead. He eats only when he gives value for the meal.”

“Master.”

She lifted her head and looked the tavernmaster in the eye. At the same time, she stepped to her left, putting herself between the man and Longbow. She swallowed once, almost audibly, and stood her ground. Instead of groveling before the man as many others in her position would, she held her ground. Whatever he had done to her, the tavernmaster had yet to break her spirit. That meant she had not been under the man’s cruel hand for too very long.

At least Fallon hoped not.

But he still did not know enough to determine the best course of action.

He closed his eyes and concentrated on the girl. Emanating from her was an aura of fear and anger so strong it battered relentlessly against him. Instinctively, he reinforced his mental shields before probing gently, carefully below the outer layer of her emotions. As he did, his own anger reared its head like an enraged bull and he fought it down, surprised by the depth of his reaction.

Suddenly and without warning, Fallon suddenly found himself linked with the girl. Her emotions whirled dizzily, black and red, around him. Nausea churned in the pit of his stomach and he clamped down on it. For those few fleeting moments, he was part of the girl and experiencing all she did. Knowing the danger of remaining linked with her without having laid the proper foundation, he quickly broke free.

Breathing deeply, more than a little shaken, Fallon leaned back. Never before had he been pulled so quickly and unexpectedly into a link. There was very definitely much about the girl that needed exploring. But that had to wait until he figured out what his first move should be. He knew one thing for certain. After sharing the link with her, it was clear the situation was far worse than he had feared. Now he had to act on her behalf. Failure to do so would be a violation of the sacred oaths he had sworn to the Lord and Lady. . . .


Sword of Arelion and Dagger of Elanna are now available from all major e-book retailers (and will soon be available on platforms like Scribbd and library lending services. Foil of the Gods will be available sometime during the second quarter of 2022.

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