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What is Needed Pt. 3

Photo used in The Bow of Destiny book trailer

Photo used in The Bow of Destiny book trailer

Author’s Note: This is the conclusion of Part 2 of the prequel blog serial entitled “What is Needed”. Click on these links to read Part 1, Part 2 (first section) and Part 2 (Conclusion). This series is a companion to The Bow of Destiny (Part 1 of The Bow of Hart Saga) as expanded writing samples for the current Indiegogo campaign for the novel. The events of the blog series pre-date those of The Bow of Destiny by several hundred years but include several long-lived characters who appear in the forthcoming novel. Please read this post and consider supporting the fundraiser. To learn more about The Bow of Destiny campaign click the provided link. This material is copyrighted and not intended for reproduction except at the author’s consent.

 

What is Needed (Part 3)

by P. H. Solomon

The bell clanged and jolted Hastra from sleep. Screams, shouts and snarls echoed from the lower levels. It’s a dream like the others. She clutched her blanket at her chin and waited.

Light flared as Zelma lit a candle that illuminated her wide-eyed face and disheveled shocks of flame-red hair. “Is that what you heard in the first vision?”

Hastra groaned. It’s come, no it’s been here all along. She swung her bare feet on the frigid floor. “Get dressed in something warm. The snow’s melted but nights are still cold.”

Zelma’s mouth remained open as she twisted in her bed with a nod.

Hastra swirled into a dress and sat on her bed while she tugged wool stockings on her feet. “Shh.” She waved a hand and they sat silent while ominous sounds rose and fell beyond their door. “Put that candle out, someone’s coming.” She snatched her walking stick, hoisted it at her shoulder and stood by the door.

Quick footsteps stopped at their door and it opened. Lamp-light grew and Hastra withheld her swing at the sight of Howart’s gaunt face. His eyes blinked in the shadow of their deep hollows.

The tall Withling swung the lamp in the room. “Come with me. I’ve expected this and made preparations in the cellars if we can get there. I’ll get anyone else nearby while you finish here but hurry. No shoes from here, they echo.” Howart paused for spare moments, pulled shoes off his feet and then went tapping on nearby doors.

Zelma lit the candle again.

“Don’t bother with that, sister, we can see enough to gather what we need.”

“I’ll leave it lit when we leave so they’ll have to search the rooms.”

Hastra nodded and grabbed their winter cloaks as Zelma finished with her stockings. They left with their shoes in hand and found others gathering with Howart in the passage. Just ten of us? So few. Hastra pushed hair out of her face. Better than none.

Light flickered in the near stairwell.

Howart shuttered his lamp and lowered his voice. “This way to the cellars. Run!”

The knot of Withlings scurried along the hall. Their legs pumped as they navigated the far stairwell in near darkness. They reached a landing and crowded out of sight. Pig-faced bugbears smashed through barred doors at the far length of the lowest apartment level. Crashes and growls sounded from the level above them.

Howart pulled his hood onto his head and he murmured into their knot. “Follow me. Stay in the shadows. We can’t wait or they will catch us here.” The skinny Withling pressed against the stone wall and slipped into the deeper darkness gathered below them while he held the shuttered lamp away from the wall.

The others took their turns as the trolls ravaged rooms and drug out other screaming Withlings.

Hastra pulled on her hood. Go, don’t think. She held her breath and crossed in the shadows. Ignore them and go. Tears pooled in her eyes at the flash of movement and the sight of blood as one bugbear stabbed feeble Durna. So kind, now gone. Hastra rubbed her damp cheeks.

They plunged into the darkness of the upper cellars.

Hastra inhaled the pungent mustiness as they descended. She winced at the destructive clamor and she blinked back tears for lost friends. Why couldn’t I find our betrayers sooner. She bumped into someone with a grunt as they halted in the cellar passage. “Sorry.”

Dim light glowed on Howart’s face and everyone crowded close at his whispers. “I’ll chance a little light here. I’m not as familiar with this area. We need to go to into the lower cellars. Put on your shoes.”

Hastra slipped on her shoes and pushed closer to the skeletal Withling. “Those cellars aren’t used anymore. It’s dangerous with rats and decay.”

“I’ve been preparing for this. I’ve mapped a way out from there.”

Tenelle, the pudgy Shildran woman from the end of Hastra’s hall frowned. “Preparing? You’ve known about this and told no one?”

“We’ve only suspected based on visions Hastra had all winter without instructions from Eloch.”

Faces turned to Hastra. Their confused and angry with me. Torchlight flickered above and the sound of chaos rose.

“We’ve no time to discuss this. Follow me or perish.” Howart trotted away and passed closed doors to storage rooms.

Hastra hurried after Howart with the others but endured uncertain murmurs until Howart shushed them. They think I’m to blame. Maybe I should have spoken out. Crashes echoed from the dark passage behind her. It wouldn’t have made a difference.

Howart led them through several turns until they reached a stairwell to the lower cellars. Their leader huffed with sweat beaded on his brow. “I’ve hidden a few supplies below that may help us. This is a maze and I don’t know my way well at all.”

Water dripped in places and the worn stair slowed them. Hastra held her skirt high and felt for each step with her foot. Dust tickled her nose and she covered her lower face with her sleeved arm while stifling a sneeze. If the trolls don’t get us the foul air will. She exhaled, gasped for air and held it. What’s rotted down here?

They gained the lower cellar level and kicked up more dust. Howart risked more light.

Grit on the stone floor scraped under their feet. There’s Howart’s footprints from his earlier forays. Where’s he leading us? Their guide turned several times and Hastra lost her sense of direction. She pulled her skirt higher as she traipsed through a shallow pool of discolored water.

Howart opened a door and stepped into a room. Instead of darkness they met light as their knot of Withlings pushed into the room.

Kregen wheeled from shelves packed with supplies. The position of the Rokan’s light cast an odd shadow across half his face. “So you’re the one who left all this here.”

Howart’s voice rose in spite of the danger. “What are you doing here? Weren’t you at the gate? Didn’t you ring the bell? How did you escape the trolls?”

“Zeld had the gate tonight.” Kregen’s thin lips spread into a smile beneath his hooked nose though no friendliness rose in his eyes. “And I didn’t escape the trolls.” He snapped his fingers. Snake-faced hobgoblins and tusked bugbears stepped from behind old crates. Curved blades whispered as the trolls drew their weapons.

Hastra wheeled toward the door. A sword-point rose to her throat. The mirthless grin of a hobgoblin revealed yellowed, broken teeth. They trapped us! She held her breath.

“You see, Withling’s Watch is mine in the name of Magdronu.”

Hastra gasped. The Hidden Dragon has destroyed us. The fetid stench no longer bothered Hastra as their captors snorted and snarled laughter.

End of Part 3 (Part 4 will be posted on 8/24 or after)

Comments are welcome so please leave them below. See my Contact page for information on how to connect with me or follow the blog by email. Visit my Indiegogo campaign for more information and help support the novel’s publication.

Thanks for reading!

PHS

Photo used in The Bow of Destiny book trailer

What is Needed Pt 2: Conclusion

Photo used in The Bow of Destiny book trailer

Photo used in The Bow of Destiny book trailer

Author’s Note: This is the conclusion of Part 2 of the prequel blog serial entitled “What is Needed”. Click on these links to read Part 1 and Part 2 (first section). This series is a companion to The Bow of Destiny (Part 1 of The Bow of Hart Saga) as expanded writing samples for the current Indiegogo campaign for the novel. The events of the blog series pre-date those of The Bow of Destiny by several hundred years but include several long-lived characters who appear in the forthcoming novel. Please read this post and consider supporting the fundraiser. To learn more about The Bow of Destiny campaign click the provided link. This material is copyrighted and not intended for reproduction except at the author’s consent.

 

What is Needed (Part 2: Conclusion)

by P. H. Solomon

Hastra’s lips puckered as the door to the Meditation Hall closed softer than falling snow.  Nothing again. No impression to share with anyone or write it in the Book of Prophecies. She pulled her thick shawl close and high-stepped through the snow with a sigh that billowed in her eyes. Thick clouds rolled over the Gray Spires. “Maybe I should just forget them.”

The Withling wandered to her room but didn’t find Zelma. She’s already at table. I could use an early dinner. Hastra sighed and trudged the route to the dining hall and served herself a bowl of steaming soup that smelled of onions and sausage. Hastra snagged brown bread with butter and shuffled between the trestle tables toward Zelma who sat alone and stirred her bowl of soup.

“This is different for you. Your crowd is busy, I see.” Hastra straddled the bench, sat and swung her leg over.

“Your visions trouble me. You’ve spent so much time in the Hall of Silence. Won’t you write them down for others to see? They consume you.” Zelma sniffed and wiped her nose while a tear gleamed in her green eyes.

“This is hardly the place to discuss my visions.”

Howart approached and sat across the table from Hastra and her sister. The tall Withling lowered his head in prayer. If he heard us… Hastra picked at her food and then took a hot spoonful of soup, smacked her lips, snatched a cup of water and sloshed the contents as she gulped.

“What visions are you talking about?” Howart tore bread and dipped it into the steaming soup.

Hastra choked and almost spewed her water. Now it will be out. She swallowed and wiped her face.

Zelma elbowed Hastra. “You should talk about it.”

Hastra scowled at Zelma who arched one eyebrow higher than the other and offered a faint smile. No chance for denial now. My, how that soup burned. Hastra drank again. She swallowed and opened her mouth.

The Grendonese sisters strode past giggling and whispering, their skirts twirling with their flouncing stride. Hastra clamped her mouth shut and followed the sisters with her eyes. Which one is which, I can never tell. They sat several tables away and shared a jest with Zeld and Kregen that set the Rokan brothers laughing.

Zelma cleared her throat. Howart paid Hastra’s reticence no mind as he dunked his bread again.

“Not here. Let’s eat first and find somewhere to speak.”

Howart shrugged and his sunken cheeks filled with his broad smile that exposed his crooked teeth. “A big secret, I see. Well enough, I’ve nothing to do after supper.”

Once they finished, Hastra led Zelma and Howart on a walk through empty corridors. She related the tale to Howart who bent close to hear Hastra’s whispers. She paused often and checked the passages for anyone following. They paused at a window overlooking the courtyard.

Howart gazed out the window at the late winter night beneath the early stars until his breath frosted the panes. “It’s almost like the vision is now since you have no unction about it.”

Hastra shifted her feet and cocked her head. “I don’t understand what you mean.”

The gaunt Withling turned from the window and his deep-set eyes shifted between Hastra and her sister. “The danger from these visions is here, now and not something in the future.” Howart swept his arms in an arc over Hastra’s head as he spoke.

Zelma hugged herself as she shivered. “But there’s no sign of trolls in this old keep. How can there be any danger?”

“The danger’s here though. That’s why there’s no interpretation, no instruction.” Howart wagged a long finger as he spoke.

Hastra turned to the window and found her murky reflection in the fogged pane. “But from where and whom is our danger? There may be trolls or not but there’s something else at work.” She turned back to her companions but neither answered. “We must watch for odd behavior and investigate if necessary. We have no proof of a betrayal or danger.”

Howart crossed his arms. “Except your dreams.”

Zelma chuckled and tossed her flaming tresses. “And oddity is common in this house.”

Hastra turned back to the window where the fog faded. Below, Kregen crossed the courtyard and entered the gatehouse. “You’re right, not odd, just activity that is out of place.” She watched her companions’ reflections nod.

“We’ll catch whoever endangers us.” Zelma patted Hastra’s shoulder.

Hastra drummed her cheek with her fingers. But this may not be about catching them. She shivered and pulled her shawl closer.

End of Part 2 (Part 3 will be posted on 8/17 or after)

Comments are welcome so please leave them below. See my Contact page for information on how to connect with me or follow the blog by email. Visit my Indiegogo campaign for more information and help support the novel’s publication.

Thanks for reading!

PHS

What is Needed – Part 2

Photo used in The Bow of Destiny book trailer

Photo used in The Bow of Destiny book trailer

Author’s Note: This is Part 2 of the prequel blog serial entitled “What is Needed”. This series is a companion to The Bow of Destiny (Part 1 of The Bow of Hart Saga) as expanded writing samples for the current Indiegogo campaign for the novel. The events of the blog series pre-date those of The Bow of Destiny by several hundred years but include several long-lived characters who appear in the forthcoming novel. Please read this post and consider supporting the fundraiser. To learn more about The Bow of Destiny campaign click the provided link. This material is copyrighted and not intended for reproduction except at the author’s consent. Note: I’m releasing this part in sections so there will be more to read on Thursday.

 

What is Needed (Part 2)

by P. H. Solomon

Hands grasped Hastra. She screamed. It’s killing me! Her heart thudded in her ears. I’m dying. She blinked into the blackness.

“Hastra!”

“Get it off me!”

Zelma’s face, ringed with light, replaced the darkness. “Sister, what’s wrong. You’ve fallen.” Tears brimmed in Zelma’s green eyes.

“It was here, a hobgoblin. It attacked me.” Broken crockery and ruined food lay strewn on the rough stone. Hastra groaned, lay back on the cold floor and grabbed her head. “Another vision?” Tears streamed on her cheeks. Breathe. Her chest heaved.

“What’s wrong?” Someone called. “Do you need help?”

Zelma helped Hastra from the floor. “My sister is injured and fell.”

Someone stepped closer. “What do you need?”

“Howart? That’s Howart.” Hastra twisted and placed her back against the stone wall. The gaunt Withling stood in the pool of light at the corner.

Zelma coaxed Hastra to her feet. “Send a student to clean the mess and have another bring more food to our room. It’s second level, seventh door on the right. Hastra’s weak from her travels.”

“Can you get her to your room?”

Zelma nodded. “What is needed is given.”

Hastra trained her voice to a low tone. “Good, I’m not ready to share visions yet.” There’s no impression for action or meaning. She winced when she put weight on her leg.

Howart frowned and left while Hastra leaned on her sister as they hobbled away. They arrived at the stair and Hastra put her weight onto Zelma as she used her good leg and climbed steps one at a time. I hope there’s a prayer for this or I’m down for a while. She sucked air through clenched teeth as her boot soles scraped on wooden stair.

“You’ve had visions?” Zelma huffed and grunted as Hastra pushed against the smaller woman.

“Yes, the first knocked me off my horse and that’s how I got hurt. Thank Eloch, Kregen helped me.”

“Tell me what you’ve seen.”

Hastra shook her head. “Not here, not yet.”

They reached the second level and shambled to their door and Hastra hopped to her bed while Zelma closed the door.  The young woman rounded on Hastra with arms crossed and brow creased. “Tell me why this vision’s so secret in Withling’s Watch.”

Hastra rubbed her leg and related the exact details. “Darkness howled from the gate with a gust of wind and punched me from the saddle. There was fire-“

Zelma whirled at a feeble knock and snatched the door open. “Good, this is good. Is the floor cleaned?” The young Withling closed the door as the student mumbled an answer.

She handed the plate to Hastra who nibbled and waited as the student’s footsteps faded. She related the condition of the gates, the screams and everything else between mouthfuls of warm food. Zelma stood with her head cocked and the furrow between her eyebrows unwavering. I’ve got her attention now. Hastra paused, bit into her bread and chewed.

“And in the passage?” Zelma motioned in the direction of the stairwell.

“A second vision.” Hastra nodded with vigor. “Yes, on the heels of the first. A hobgoblin stepped out of a door and attacked me as darkness descended again.”

Zelma sat on her bed and leaned forward with her elbows braced on her knees. “That’s rather emphatic, two in one night.”

“But there’s more.”

“Ah, good you haven’t told me your impressions or inclinations. These are pivotal to interpretation.”

Hastra frowned and set her plate aside. “That’s just it. I have none.”

Zelma leaned further forward. “Nothing at all? There must be something.”

Hastra brushed crumbs off her skirt. “It’s like an empty well. It should have water but the bucket brings nothing up.”

“You need to write it in the Book of Prophecies. Someone else will know what it is for, what the interpretation is.”

An edge crept into Hastra’s tone. “Didn’t you hear me? I have nothing from Eloch instructing me what to do, not even that.”

“Then maybe it’s not real. If I didn’t know better I’d say you were…” Zelma fell silent and lowered her head.

“What, crazy?”

Zelma displayed a weak smile. “Perhaps over-worked. You said yourself you pushed to return before the winter snows.”

“I’ve only been allowed to tell you this. There is warning and likely danger but it is not to be spread, at least not yet.”

Zelma stood and opened the door.

“Where are you going? Give me something more since I’ve been allowed to share this with you.”

“I have. Enter your visions in the book or go to sleep and forget them. Either way I’m due to say prayers to Eloch.”

The first snow of winter left drifts in the courtyard for three days and Hastra’s leg ached worse each day. She shuffled to morning prayer on the morning after the snow ended before someone healed her with a blessing. There’s a message in that injury and the timing. She nodded her thanks to the old Withling in the felt hat whom she did not recognize. Where’s Zelma? She wheeled back to ask her healer’s name. And he’s gone. Hastra brushed past the three smiling sisters from Grendon. What are their names? Zelma’s hair blazed in the crowd where it thrust from beneath her head scarf.

“There you are, sister. I’ve gotten a healing this morning.”

“Who.” Zelma searched the crowd.

“I didn’t recognize him but he’s wearing an old, wide-brimmed hat.” Hastra sat on the wooden bench beside Zelma.

“In here?”

“Oh, he’s probably left it outside.” Someone cleared their voice as the morning cantor started prayers.

Halfway through the intonation Hastra’s head rose before she remembered herself and bowed again. I’ll serve in the Hall of Silence until I have more direction. The smile grew throughout the end of the prayer as the dour mood of several days crumbled from her face like melting ice.

 

Look for the conclusion of this part on 8/14 and the next part on or after 8/17. Please leave comments and see the Indiegogo project linked above or from the News page. See the Contact page for ways to connect with me on social media. Thanks for reading!

P. H. Solomon