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What is Needed Pt. 4

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)Part 2 (Conclusion) and Part 3This 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 4)

by P. H. Solomon

The hobgoblin’s needle-like fangs flashed yellow in torchlight. The blade pressed against Hastra’s throat. Kregen ran out of the darkness and flame that night. He is revealed out of darkness in the Hidden Dragon’s flame this night. Her face twitched and she clenched her teeth.

Kregen snapped gutteral words. The trolls snatched their captives’ hands and bound them with leather straps.

Zelma wept. “Kregen how could you?”

Hastra whirled toward the Rokan Withling. “You can stop this even now, Kregen.”

The Rokan’s grin flashed as the torchlight danced across his face. He flicked his wrist and spoke more trollish commands. Trolls cuffed the sisters. Hastra grunted as she fell on her backside. Zelma screamed her pain.

Hastra blinked and shook her head.

“No! Leave them alone!” Howart shouldered the trolls away even with bound hands.

A bugbear roared spittle into the gaunt Withling’s face and snatched his shirt. The bugbear punched Howart on the jaw with a fist like a mallet. Blood and a tooth flew flew out of Howart’s mouth. The troll bared short tusks and gut-punched the Withling. He grunted and doubled over. The others Withlings cowered.

“Enough of this.” Kregen rasied a hand and the beatings stopped. “Now you’ll follow along without a word. Time is short.” Their betrayer strode out the door. The trolls pushed and dragged their ten captives in Kregen’s path.

Hastra’s mouth pulsed pain as blood dribbled to her chin. I still have my teeth. She wiped her mouth with her sleeve but grimaced all the more even with the pain. Her hand trembled with prickling pain. They’ve lashed them so tight I’m losing feeling. She wiggled her fingers and groaned.

The trolls herded the captives out of the cellar complex. They shoved Hastra and her fellow captives or snarled if the Withlings dawdled. Vile creatures. If only Eloch revealed his wishes. No unction bloomed in Hastra. The lack is disquieting.

They entered the great hall where the remaining Withlings milled with more trolls on guard who brandished a variety of weapons. Kregen’s escort shoved Hastra and her band among the crowd. She dabbed her lip on her sleeve. Too many of these weapons are blood-covered. Tears distorted Hastra’s eyes. More of us are bruised and wounded. Where is Eloch? She wiped her cheeks on her sleeves.

Kregen strolled in front of the crowd. Zeld stood back with the three sisters from North Grendon.

Hastra’s eyes narrowed. Zeld I see aiding his brother but those three? She nudged Zelma. “Who are those sisters?”

Zelma shifted her gaze from Hastra’s pointed finger to the three women and then gasped. “Not the Beleesh sisters too!”

A hobgoblin snarled and prodded at Zelma with a spear. She and several other Withlings backed away in silence.

Kregen whipped a curved dagger from his side and brandished it over his head. Murmurs and even weeping fell silent.

“He has a Rokan blood-knife.” Howart’s voice echoed in the hushed hall.

“Yes, it is a blood-knife, cursed to scald the very soul, they say.” Kregen gazed at the blade as a sneer broadened under his hooked nose. “Now listen, Magdronu is magnanimous and has not sent me to kill you all.”

Whispers wove through the crowd of mystics as their fellow Withling spoke the name of the Hidden Dragon.

Kregen lifted his voice. “My master would have followers as he ascends the heavens as he should. He is merciful and will spare you. Only follow. Or…” Kregen brandished the knife.

Silence lingered among the Withlings. Feet shifted and mystics muttered their fear.

Hastra gaped. I can’t believe so many are actually considering this offer. She closed her mouth. Something must be done.

Elder Tokla stepped before Kregen and stood silent. The dwarf’s beard bore crusted blood from a smashed nose.

Kregen’s lip curled on one side as his brows rose. “Well, Chokkran devil, I never expected you to turn but I’ll take your oath and you can spread the Holy Dragon’s word among your puny kin and nations.”

“Who has succored you, traitor?” The dwarf’s voice rumbled like falling rocks.

A sweet smell filled Hastra’s nose and tension eased from her throat. The rustle of exhaled breath whispered through the crowd. He spoke prophecy. Let’s see what happens now. Hastra edged forward through the mystics while her sister and Howart shuffling behind her.

Kregen laughed. “Magdronu has taken care of me for years, Elder. But I’m no traitor. Here’s what was promised though.” The Rokan bent, stabbed Tokla in the heart and yanked the dagger free.

Gasps shuddered through the Withlings. The dwarf stood a moment, then twisted as his knees buckled and he dropped to the marble floor.

Hastra’s feet stopped and tears welled in her eyes.

Elder Soren of the trading fleets strode to Tokla’s corpse and stood in the pool of blood. Kregen opened his mouth but the wrinkled old man spoke first. “The false one begets betrayers but he shall not have his way.”

Hastra took a step forward again. He continues the prophecy. Her eyebrows arched.

Kregen stabbed the elder in the heart and Soren collapsed beside his old friend. His blood spread on the floor.

Peace stilled Hastra’s racing heart. It’s not my turn yet. She pushed through the frozen mystics. Zelma and Howart shouldered past. Not you as well, my sister.

Elder Margen strolled from the crowd.

Kregen’s blood-drenched grip tightened on the dagger.

The white-haired Shildran’s voice never faltered when she spoke. “The Hidden Dragon may usurp kingdoms with deceits but his ways shall not last and he will not ascend.”

Kregen bared his teeth and shouted. The knife smashed into Margen and she fell beside her fellow elders as more blood puddled the floor. “Any other-.”

Howart exited the crowd and stood close to Kregen with his hands still bound. “A bow shall be made in defense.”

The blade plunged into Howart. The gaunt Withling folded and fell on his back when the Rokan betrayer ripped the daggar free.

Tears spilled from Hastra’s eyes as Zelma squirmed from the crowd.

Zelma’s voice rang high with a note of defiance. “To break the binding curses.”

Hastra closed her eyes as Kregen stabbed her sister. Calm slowed her racing heart. Mine is not the last words of this. If only others will finish it. Tears streaked her face. She opened her eyes to Kregen’s grimace. Zelma’s body lay piled at the edge of her sight. “His prey shall be snatched from his fangs.”

The knife smashed into her chest. It seared Hastra’s flesh. Kregen’s glaring face faded to darkness.

She hovered near her body in a gray blur. Pain slid away as colors swirled around her. Calm and joy sustained Hastra as brighter light opened amid the ceiling.

“Any others want to finish that prophecy of Eloch?” Kregen’s voice echoed from her previous existence.

“Will you stay?” A voice whispered loudly.

Movement attracted her attention. Howart twitched, pushed himself into a seated position and the climbed to his feet. The risen Withling pressed closer to Kregen but he shouted when he spoke. “The bow shall be hidden from heart.”

Kregen stabbed the gaunt Withling.

Howart never flinched and did not fall again.

Kregen stabbed again. When nothing happened he stepped back and gaped.

“Will you finish what is started?” The voice thundered gently through Hastra’s essence.

Zelma stirred.

“I will stay with Zelma.” Gray blur enveloped Hastra.

Her sister rose and took Kregen’s knife-hand and pulled the blade into her wound. “The eagle will guide the heir.”

As Zelma stepped back, darkness wrapped around Hastra. Her eyes fluttered and she inhaled. She stood and straightened her skirt. Hastra arched her eyebrows and craned her neck toward the gaping traitor. “The bow will be found at need.”

Silence covered the hall and even the trolls stood frozen on their feet.

Hastra took a breath with Zelma and Howart. The three of them spoke together. “And the arrow shall Eloch prepare.”

Kregen stood unmoving, his gaze shifting between the risen Withlings. His jaw worked and his voice whispered. “I killed you.”

Zeld snarled troll words. Hobgoblins grasped Hastra’s arms and dragged her away with Howart and Zelma.

As the trolls led them back to the cellar complex Hastra wobbled. None of this is real. I was dead. But we ended the prophecy. She touched her chest, found the rent in her flesh and her hand recoiled from it. Not even pain.

Their guards brought shackles after taking them to an empty storeroom, cut away their straps and locked their hands and feet. Their captors exited the room and barred the door but the risen Withlings heard a few growling outside in their crude tongue.

Zelma sighed. “So much just happened but I’m filled with joy even now.”

Hastra stirred. “I’m confused and awed, but yes, there is joy – no exhilaration – as well. We must be needed for something yet.”

Howart chuckled. “What is needed is given.”

End of Part 4 (Part 5 will be posted on 9/2)

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 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

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