Wednesday, 29 January 2014


Here you can preview the first chapter from my upcoming indie release, which I'm hoping will hit Amazon and Bookstore shelves within the next four months if all goes well. Please feel free to leave a comment in the section below. I love hearing from readers. :)

Chapter 1

1st Day of Manul
124th Year of the Industrial Era

                He ran full bore through the forest, the wind whipping past him as he sprinted down the rough, uneven dirt road. His feet left the ground as he leaped over a large branch that had fallen on the path. When he landed, he continued onward without missing a step. He imagined that if he’d jumped a little higher and gone a little further, he could have taken flight. Dane had always dreamed of flying as high and freely as a bird could and to not be strapped down by the bonds of gravity.
                The boy came to a full stop at the crest of a hill at the forest’s edge. Dane leaned forward and planted his hands on his knees, gasping as he tried to catch his breath. He stood overlooking the village of Tran, and from his perch he could see as far as the endless sea of wheat on the other side of town. Tran was a peaceful village, and it had no walls nor other fortifications to separate it from nature. The buildings were fashioned out of finely crafted stone and clay bricks, and their windows glistened in the sunlight from their daily cleanings. A plume of smoke rose from the smithy on the southern side of the town as its forges were stoked, preparing for the day’s work orders.
                Caravans poured in from all directions as they headed towards the market like ants marching to an anthill. The first day of Manul was marked by an annual gathering called the Harvest Festival. People came together in large numbers to barter and celebrate the arrival of autumn.
                Dane hoped that he would have a chance to partake in the festivities this year. A breeze coasted inland from the west and ruffled his hair as it passed. The wind carried with it the scent of freshly baked bread touched with the slightest hint of cinnamon. A smile spread across his face and his mouth began to water as he thought about all the wonderful food the villagers prepared. It seemed like the bakers of Tran always put in extra effort around the time of the festival, just to make sure that everything tasted that much better.
                He thought about spending some time wandering the bazaar and looking at the goods brought in from travelers. There were always a lot of interesting things to see, as people came from as far away as Sanctuary and the minotaur city of Valar to sell their wares. If Dane could imagine it, it was available at the marketplace below.
                Memories of the previous year’s festival filled his mind. Dane could see clearly the countless weapons forged with care that gleamed in the sunlight. Fine clothing and more practical attire was in abundance due to the large number of tailors in the region. Cloth was folded neatly in colorful piles that had drawn his attention. There was even a small selection of magical items and strong-smelling concoctions that Dane could hardly begin to fathom what they were capable of.
                His smile grew wider, and he stood for a moment more in silence before his thoughts were interrupted by the creak of a wagon coming from behind him.
                “Stop day dreaming, boy.”
                Dane’s shoulders slumped and his smile faded.
                “We’ve got work to do.” His father Jonathan said. His brow was furrowed as he glared at Dane.
                Jon was a short and graying old man. He hobbled up beside Dane while pulling a wagon behind him. It was filled over the top with a pile of animal hides, each having been prepared by the man’s expert hands with care. Dane hadn’t been allowed anywhere near them when Jon had been cleaning and skinning them. His father feared that the boy’s inexperienced hands would only ruin them and make them worthless for selling.
                “I know, father,” Dane said. He let out a sigh. Every year it was the same thing. He never got to have any fun. He expected that just like at previous festivals, he would be stuck sitting with his father and helping maintain the stall they had rented.
                Jon paused at the top of the hill and groaned as he set their cart down. He rubbed his knee, then stood up and arched his back, eliciting a few pops as he moved. Though the man was a skilled hunter, he’d been involved in a hunting accident with one of the local farmers when a stray arrow punctured his knee. From time to time, the old wound would bother him.
                Must be a storm coming, Dane thought as he recalled the many times in the past the pain in his father’s knee had flared up just before a heavy thunderstorm.
                “Let’s get moving,” Jon said before picking the cart back up. “We don’t have time to dally.” He took the lead as he pulled their goods along a dirt track towards the village proper.
                The Harvest Festival was one of the most important dates for the people of Tran. Travelers from Valar, Wersgrauff, and Sanctuary all brought with them plenty of money and no shortage of exotic goods. Many people came to Tran simply to partake in some of the bountiful produce that the village produced.
                The town lay nestled within the Rogarian Foothills, an area surrounded on the northern and eastern sides by forests and snow-capped peaks. Tran was often used as a meeting place for the humans of the Rogarian Empire and the minotaur from the Snowhoof Tribe to the north-east. The Valarian Trade-Way snaked across the foothills, beginning in Wersgrauff on the coast, cutting through Tran, and heading all the way up into the mountains toward the Snowhoof Plateau where the minotaur made their home.
                Dane and his father strode the center of the village to a spot in the bazaar they had reserved months ago. The festival was always busy, and getting a stall to sell goods was both expensive and required a reservation well in advance. The center of town was lined with merchants, all of whom surrounded a reflecting pool constructed at Tran’s center. All the cobblestone roads in town eventually found their way to the bazaar, and it was the home of numerous shops and the inn.
                “Good morning, Jonathan!” a voice shouted over the growing din of the marketplace. Dane followed the sound to see the innkeeper leaning against the door frame of his inn. Jon waved to him and pulled his cart over to the side of the road before stopping at the front steps.
                The innkeeper’s name was Ted Langsten, a man known in the village for his kindheartedness and friendly demeanor. He had a thick beard and salt-and-pepper hair. He easily dwarfed Jon by a foot or more and had a potbelly, one just large enough to suggest the man lived a life of leisure rather than one of sloth. The white sleeves of his tunic were rolled up to his shoulders and he wore a stained, green apron over the front of his clothing.
                “Morning, Ted. How’s business today?” Jon asked.
                “It’s been slow so far. A few people checking in and getting their room keys, but beyond that it’s been very relaxed. Once I open the tavern later and things settle down out here I’m sure I’ll be swamped, though,” Ted said. He glanced past Jon to look at the cart, and whistled as he spotted the head of a bear sticking out from the back of the pile of pelts. “Nice catch. Grizzly, I take it?”
                “Yes sir. He was a lucky find, too. I caught the big fella sniffing around the home and bagged him without much trouble. A quick shot to the head saved the pelt from any damage. I’m hoping to make a killing from selling him,” Jon said, his face beaming with a smile born out of pride. “I still have some smoked meat left from him if you’d like me to bring a couple slabs over the next time I’m in town. Perhaps in exchange for a drink or two?”
                Ted chuckled, “Of course, how could I turn such an offer down? I look forward to it. I’ve not had smoked bear in some time.”
                “I’ll make a point to come by after the festival is over. Speaking of which, I’d best get set up before it gets too late in the morning. Take care, Ted,” Jon said as he hefted the cart up off the ground. “Come along, Dane.”
                They headed around the reflecting pool over to their stall, to a spot that was wedged between a tailor on the left and a farmer selling baskets full of fruit from his orchard on the right. Both merchants greeted Jon with a wave and a few small words as he walked by, and he replied with a small nod of his head. He wheeled the cart around behind the counter and began to unload the pelts to show them off.
                While Jon busied himself with making the stall look presentable, Dane scampered off to look around. Several other merchants were still getting ready for the day. There were also many performers present throughout the bazaar. Bards strummed a few notes on their lutes and tuned them to get the sound just right. Dancers stretched and talked amongst themselves in preparation for their routines. A few of the local militiamen were patrolling the market, keeping a vigilant eye out for any trouble.
                On the eastern rim of the bazaar was a section reserved for the Snowhoof minotaur. The great bull-like men and women had already begun peddling their wares. There were countless pelts from beasts not found in the southern regions out on display, such as those from snow leopards, polar bears, and rams. Metal ingots crafted from the ore mined out of the rich deposits in the mountains were stacked on another stall. Others still held oddities and trinkets that were handcrafted by their people, giving Dane a glimpse into their shamanic heritage.
                Something glimmered off to his right as it reflected the sun in his eyes, and he bee-lined towards it. At one stall were rows of polished gemstones that shone in the light. They were arranged in a pattern according to color, starting with stones as black as night on the left, and proceeding all the way to bright, white and clear gems on the right, like a crystalline rainbow. Strange etchings marked some of the stones on the table, and they were set into crude looking necklaces.
                The minotaur running the stall was a tall female wearing a brown robe with red and green tribal markings. She was busy talking to a few of her neighbors in their native tongue.
                “Um, excuse me?” Dane said, trying to get her attention.
                “Yes, what is it child?” the female asked in the Common tongue as she turned. Though her accent was heavy, Dane had little trouble understanding her. He’d been exposed to the minotaur many times in his short life and he was used to the way their voices sounded.
                “May I take a look at that one please?” Dane pointed to a small green pendant that had caught his eye.
                “Certainly.” She picked up the item in question and held it out in her open palm. “It’s crafted out of jade, and has been smoothed and polished into a lustrous sheen by one of our shaman.”
                The small green stone hung from a thin strip of leather. Dane ran a finger along the smooth stone, and noted that it had a design carved into it that looked like a bear’s paw.
                “What does the symbol mean?” he asked.
                “Let me see...” she said before examining it closely. “Ah, now I remember. It’s a talisman crafted by my cousin, a shaman. The bear in our culture is a symbol of power and courage, and the stone bestows its wearer with these qualities. It was given the blessing of the shaman who carved it.
                “Oh wow, really? How did he bless it?”
                “Well, between you and me,” the woman leaned a little closer, “I don’t know much about shamanism myself, but I hear that he slew a bear and embedded its spirit within the stone.”
                “There’s no way a bear could fit inside that!” Dane exclaimed. He reached out to touch it, and felt a strange warmth radiating from the stone. “Does that mean it’s magic?” He asked. When the minotaur nodded her head, Dane’s face lit up. “I’ve never touched something magical before! Can I buy it? How much is it?” He was already shoving his hands into his belt pouch to retrieve his money before he’d finished talking, and was scooping out a handful of silver coins.
                “I think I could part with it for a few silver pieces,” the minotaur replied after a moment of thought.
                Dane picked out three silver coins and slapped them down on the counter. The merchant smiled and plucked the coins up before she dropped the pendant into Dane’s open hands.
                “Thank you for your business. May the spirits watch over you, child,” the minotaur said.
                “Thank you!” Dane said and waved goodbye.
                Dane scurried off and slipped the pendant over his head as he walked. Oh wow, it’s magic. Real magic! Father never let me learn anything about these sorts of things. I wonder what I can do now? I can’t wait to find out if the bear really does make me stronger.
                He wandered around the bazaar for a bit longer and looked at some of the goods the local merchants had to sell, but beyond the baked food nothing caught his attention. He began to meander over towards the bakery while examining the stone that now hung around his neck.
                “Dane? Dane!” Jon’s voice rang out across the market, and Dane felt his heart jump into his throat. “Where the hell did you wander off to!?”
                The boy’s face flushed and he ran off towards his father’s stall, not wanting to dawdle any longer. He hid the pendant beneath his tunic and returned to where Jon was waiting for him.
                “Where were you? Get back here!” Jon grabbed him by the forearm and dragged him behind the counter.
                Dane looked up at his father and opened his mouth to apologize, but he was quickly cut off before he could make a sound.
                “Don’t do that again!”
                A young woman in the stall next to them poked her head over to look at the two of them. “Don’t you think you’re being a little hard on him, Jon? It’s a boy’s nature to want to explore.”
                “A boy needs to learn to follow rules and not spend his time entertaining whimsical fantasies,” Jon replied. Then, as if it was an after-thought he added, “With all due respect, miss.” He turned back to look down at Dane. “Just go and sit by the wagon and stay out of trouble.
                “But I was just—”
                “Sit! Down!”
                Dane lowered his head until his chin touched his chest. He shuffled over to sit on the back of the wagon and watched as Jon tried to sell his pelts, calling over anyone who walked by to take a look at what he had to offer.
                A few children were running around the bazaar, and Dane noted that none of them were forced to help their parents.
                Probably because they all have mothers to look after them while their fathers work, Dane thought bitterly.
                To Dane, it felt as if the day progressed slower than a turtle’s carcass rolling uphill. He lost count of the number of times he yawned. The day moved without incident, until sometime in the late afternoon. Two individuals approached Jon’s stall and were talking to each other in a language that Dane hadn’t heard before. Despite the heat, they wore large cloaks that were draped over their bodies. However, Dane could still see the glint of metal off a chain mail tunic and he spied swords strapped to their belts. He looked at their armor, trying to find a crest or insignia of some sort to signify what military they belonged to.
                They must be mercenaries or adventurers, Dane concluded. He looked at his father, who wore a scowl on his face and stood with his arms crossed. What’s his problem?
                “Can I help you?” Jon said, his voice slightly raised.
                “Just looking around, sir,” one of the men replied. Eventually they both walked away without buying anything, satisfied with whatever it was they had come over to look at.
                “I wonder if they’re travelers or adventurers or something like that,” Dane said aloud. “It would be so amazing to be able to travel the world, and to see new sights and help people or—”
                Jon slammed a fist on the counter and spun around. “They were mercenaries, Dane! They are worthless scum-suckers that prefer to leech off our nation rather than help it. The only thing they care about is money, not about helping anyone.” Spittle flew from his mouth as he yelled. “So long as you’re my son and you’re living under my roof, you won’t so much as think about something like that, do I make myself clear Dane!?”
                Dane knew it wasn’t a question. He hung his head as his eyes began to water. His voice quivered as he uttered his reply, “Y-yes...” Dane went back to sitting quietly on the back end of the wagon, and didn’t speak for the rest of the day, unless he was spoken to first.
                It was late in the afternoon, when the sun had begun to set, before Jon finally sold off the last of his pelts. The coin purse that hung from his belt was nearly full, and it jingled as he walked.
                “Well now, it feels like I got a good haul this year,” Jon said. He lifted the bag up and shook it to guess at its weight. “Hopefully it’s enough to fix up the home a bit and replace some of my tools.”
                Dane hopped off the wagon, his bottom sore from sitting all day. “How about a new hatchet?”
                “No. The one we have is fine,” Jon replied.
                “But it’s so dull!”
                “I said no. I need the money for things that are more important, like fixing the door or replacing the windows before winter comes. Not to mention there’s that bow you broke last month that still needs replacing. Have you forgotten about that?”
                Dane winced at the mention of the bow. He hadn’t meant to break it on purpose. It just snapped in his hand when he pulled the bowstring back. It was a worn out bow that Dane thought was as old as he was. The splintered wood had cut up his forearm when it broke and he was forced to wear bandages for a few days. The only thing that hurt Dane more than the cuts was the fact Jon seemed to care more about the bow than about his son.
                “It’s going to cost a good chunk of our earnings just to keep paying for your education and to get us through the winter. Replacing the hatchet is the last thing I need to worry about right now,” his father said. Dane grew sullen once again, and Jon sighed. “I suppose I can spare a few copper for a whetstone if it gets you to stop whining about it. But you’re sharpening it and you’re going to be chopping the wood from now on.”
                I always do the chopping anyways, Dane thought.
                Jon strode over to the cart and picked it up. “I’m going to return this to Farmer Mathias and then we’re heading home. Stay here and wait for me.”
                Dane didn’t have to wait long for Jon to return, and once he did, he fell in stride behind his father as they headed back to their home in the woods. A large pine forest lay to the north of Tran, and a well-worn path cut through it to a logging camp beyond. It was also the only road that linked Dane and Jon to the village.
                Everything was quiet save for the sound of their feet stepping on and cracking twigs and leaves that fell on the path. The sun had nearly set and the trees cast long, dark shadows across the path, like claws scratching at the ground. Few birds were around at that hour, and their chirps were broken by long stretches of silence before they started up again. Dane couldn’t stand the walks home with Jon. It was always tense and it made his stomach churn.
                After a time they came upon a fork in the path. It was less worn down than the main pathway and the underbrush was beginning to grow back over it. At the end of the path was their home. It was a small, one room log cabin nestled within a clearing. To the side of the house was a small stump with a hatchet buried in it, next to a stack of wood piled up against the cabin. On the opposite side was a workbench and a large rack that Jon used to clean and cure the pelts he gathered.
                The two of them headed inside and Dane bolted to the cellar. He pulled the door open and out popped a small gray tabby cat that they had gotten the year before. It seemed like the only time Dane saw his father smile was when the cat was around. They had named the kitten Zoey, though Dane never understood where the name had come from. He scooped the cat up and rubbed a finger against the cat’s cheek, and she purred.
                As Dane was occupied with the cat, Jon slipped past him and went down into the cellar to bring up a pair of venison steaks to prepare for supper. He set them down on the table, then turned to Dane.
                “Go out and chop some wood for the stove.”
                Dane grumbled and set the cat gently on the floor. He left the house and slammed the door behind him.
                “Knock it off, Dane!” Jon yelled as he got to work preparing dinner.
                The boy shuffled over to the stump and yanked the hatchet out. The shaft was gnarled, and it was beginning to splinter in a few places. There was a dull sheen on the blade, and it was scratched from many years of use and poor maintenance.
                If father would chop the wood once in awhile, he’d know how badly we need a new hatchet.
                Dane grabbed a log from a pile beside the house and placed it on the stump before slicing the log in two, then repeated the process to cut it into quarters. He moved onto the next log, but the hatchet’s blade became lodged two-thirds of the way through.
                “Piece of junk!” Dane yelled, and with a wordless shout, he lifted the hatchet up and slammed it down until it cut the rest of the way through.
                Cheap old man can’t even get a decent hatchet to chop his own wood. He continued until he had an arm full of cut pieces and headed back inside. After tossing half of the pile into the stove, he set the rest down beside it. Dane then grabbed a bit of tinder and a pair of flint stones from the waterproof lock box stored nearby. After a few strikes with the stones, the tinder caught fire and he began to stoke it a bit until a bright orange flame started to consume the wood.
                “Stove’s lit,” he announced.
                “That was fast. Did you even cut enough wood to keep the fire going?” Jon asked.
                “Yeah, of course. I’m getting stronger you know. I’m not a little kid anymore,” Dane replied, remembering the pendant he wore beneath his tunic.
                His father shrugged and went about finishing supper while Dane went back to playing with Zoey. The cabin was soon filled with the scent of cooked meat and onions, the latter of which irritated Dane’s eyes.
                The moons were beginning to crest the horizon by the time Jon was done cooking. A lantern hung from the ceiling and provided the pair with ample lighting. Zoey bounded off into the cellar to find her dinner. Dane slumped down in his chair, disappointed that she left.
                Jon brought their food over and set it down on the table. They ate in silence. Dane didn’t want to rile his father up with whatever he wanted to say, and he imagined that Jon would only think he was whining.
                Hopefully if I keep him in a good mood he won’t be such a grouch when we go hunting in a couple days, Dane thought. With the winter months nearly upon them, they needed to prepare their cellar with as much food as they could afford to get their hands on. It was usually slim pickings for hunting once the snow fell.
                He always pushes me so hard. There’s no reason to expect so much from me. I’m still learning, damn it!
                After they ate, Dane cleaned their plates in a small wash basin using water pumped from a well Jon had dug next to their house. He then tidied up the table and made it spotless. His father would accept nothing less than absolute perfection. After he was done, Dane decided to go to bed rather than get involved with anything else. It was too dark to go outside, and Zoey was too busy hunting in the cellar to care much about what he was doing.
                Dane crossed the room to his bed and ignored his father, who sat by the window with an unmarked book in his hand and a pipe in his mouth. Dane never asked what it was that he was reading, but for more nights than he could remember, Jon had the same book every time he smoked his tobacco. The boy wondered how many times the man had read through it in its entirety.
                “You’re getting up a little earlier tomorrow,” Jon said, “You have a lecture with Lynn in the afternoon, and I need fresh firewood before you go.” Dane didn’t respond as he pulled the covers away from his bed.
                Whatever old man. The next few days are going to be an absolute nightmare. Dane climbed under his blankets and turned onto his side. He faced the wall with his back to Jon, and fell asleep.

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