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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

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

What is Needed – Part 1

Photo used in The Bow of Destiny book trailer

Photo used in The Bow of Destiny book trailer

Author’s Note: This is Part 1 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.

 

What is Needed (Part 1)

by P. H. Solomon

 

Withling’s Watch squatted in shadow as the dregs of sunlight dwindled behind the Gray Spires. Hastra’s head bobbed with the motion of her mare’s hoof-dragging gait. It’s good to come home. She yawned. I long to see Zelma. Hastra’s stomach rumbled. But first some food. The expansive stone building loomed out of the dusk as the horse climbed the cobblestoned incline to the walled keep where lights flickered in windows and smoke puffed from chimneys.

Cold wind gusted from the eastern flanks of the mountains and flung Hastra’s fur-lined cloak in wild contortions. She tugged the garment under control, held it one-handed against another blast and gripped the reins in her other hand. She chuckled. I’m awake now. Her teeth chattered. We’re a house of mystics and miracles but even we suffer the winter and hunger. The Withling’s stomach growled again.

Horseshoes rang on the road as lamps in the gatehouse cast a pool of light in the gloom. Hastra pulled her cloak tighter and lifted her head. It’s threatened snow all day and night comes fast below these peaks. She gasped at the gatehouse after she returned her attention to the road. The lights are out and the keep is dark. Her eyes narrowed. The wrought-iron gates stood ajar and listed like a ship in a gale. She pulled reins and the mare halted with a snort.

The wind howled and exploded past the squealing gateway. Shadow slammed into Hastra and she fell off the mare. Screams of terror and snarls of violence echoed from the courtyard. Fire belched from the darkness and roared past her. The mingled voices fell silent while gusts moaned like ghosts from the desolate square.

Boots clattered on the stone pavement.

Hastra recoiled and gasped as a figure distilled from the gloom. Her hand fumbled for her belt-knife. “Who’s there?” The Withling blinked and the spectral gloom faded.

“Hastra? It’s me, Kregen.” The Rokan Withling trotted to Hastra’s aide with light streaming behind him. He extended his arms. “You fell off your horse. Are you ill or just tired? Are you injurded?”

The Withling stammered for words. He looks like a vulture stooping over a corpse with that bald head and hooked nose. “I’ve had a…” She stifled her tongue in sudden wariness. Best not speak of a vision too soon. “I must’ve nodded off a moment. I’ve pushed hard to return before the snow.”

“Can you stand? Here, let me help you.” Kregen clasped hands with Hastra as she climbed to her feet.

“Just bruised, I think.” She rubbed her injured hip.

Kregen released Hastra. “You’re young, that’ll heal soon enough unless Eloch instructs someone to heal you.”

“Yes, perhaps.” Hastra blinked at her surroundings. Light glimmered from the gatehouse and the gates stood open and whole. Lanterns gleamed in the courtyard while lamps or candles glistened from the keep’s windows. She turned and found nothing behind her except the mare and the gathering night. That was a vision but of what? She arched an eyebrow and shifted her gaze over her surroundings again.

Kregen gathered the mare’s reins. “Come warm up in the gatehouse. I’ll have your horse taken to the stable.”

Hastra limped beside the Rokan who held her arm and led her mare. That vision came with neither instruction nor other impressions. She grimaced at her hip and stepped into the gatehouse as stray snowflakes fluttered on the night wind.

“Noe, please see that mare over to the stable. It should be curried and fed.” Kregen motioned to the door and the young student scurried out the door on the assigned errand. “Is anything wrong, Hastra?”

Hastra stood at the door. The gates leaned on the hinges in that vision. She rubbed her chin.

Kregen touched her shoulder. “Hastra?”

“Hmm? Oh, I’m fine. Just a bump.” Hastra released her frown and smiled. Those gates, the dilapidated keep in darkness. It was abandoned after the screams and fire. She shivered but not from the night chill. “I’ll go up to dinner. Can the boy bring my baggage?”

“As you wish, there should be food on the table even now. I’ll send him around later with your bag.”

Hastra nodded and hobbled into the courtyard as her brows furrowed. I’ll speak with Zelma, maybe pray and write it in the book for others to inspect. She winced as she climbed the steps to the door. The Withling turned at the top and found the courtyard dappled in light and dark. Kregen’s head drew back into the gatehouse. He was watching me. By those narrowed eyes he guessed more happened than I let on. Hastra frowned again and opened the main door of the stone keep and entered. Wind snuffed lit candles by the door.

“Who’s that?” The doorkeeper stepped out of the shadows and held a covered lamp aloft. “Hastra! Welcome back to Withling’s Watch. I’m sorry to discomfort you with candles at the door but I’m still lighting lamps.”

“No bother, I just fell outside is all, Zeld.” The familial hooked nose of Kregen’s brother cast an odd shadow on his face as he lit a lamp by the door. Hastra tugged her gloves off her hands and held them folded in one hand.

“Do you need help? You look pained by the fall.”

“No, I just want food.” Hastra removed her cloak and draped it over her forewarm.

Zeld motioned across the cavernous entry-hall. “Well there are plenty of our fellow Withlings still sitting at the table. I should like to hear of your journey when you have the time.”

Hastra flashed a brief smile and nodded. “We can speak on the morrow. Good night.” Zeld bowed as she limped away across the marble floor. This vaulted ceiling leaves this place too cold. It’s too proud for our humble order. She grunted at her halting stride. All safe until the end of the journey. Candle flames fluttered as she entered the passage leading to the dining hall. Muffled murmurs transformed to tangled conversations as Hastra entered the dining hall.

She stood in the doorway as the wave of voices washed away her silent journey. The Withling shuffled among her fellow mystics. Scents of roasted meats and spiced vegetables tickled her nose and her stomach grumbled. If only I can find Zelma. She should hear of this vision. There’s frizzy, red hair down that row of tables. Hastra waved. “Zelma!”

The din of the clattering crockery and chattering mystics drowned Hastra’s call. She hobbled along the aisle and met a familiar face. “Howart, greetings!”

“Hastra? Have you returned on the wings of a night-bird?” The Grendonese switched the pitcher he carried to his left hand and offered his right in greeting. “What is needed…”

“Is given. Yes, but my owl walked the whole way.” Hastra rubbed her sore haunch as Howart laughed. This bruise was given for a reason so don’t linger. “I must speak to Zelma if you will excuse me.” The gaunt Withling nodded as she stepped away among the trestle-tables.

Hastra picked Zelma’s voice from the mingled voices. “Zelma!” Hastra waved her gloves over her head as she approached.

The freckled face with receding chin and prominent nose turned toward Hastra. A moment of arched eyebrows and thin lips parted changed into wide eyes and grinning. “Hastra!” The young woman scrambled over the bench and jostled her companions with apologies. “Sister, you’ve come with the night.” Zelma hugged Hastra, drew back and touched her cheeks. “You cold. Come warm yourself and I’ll fetch you a plate of food.”

“But I need to speak with you.”

“You can tell me all about the negotiations after you’re warm and full.”

Zelma found space for the two of them on the bench and hurried a plate to Hastra piled with steaming food and warm bread. The others eating around them welcomed the returning Withling.

“Has the snow started?” Sila, the Shildran, handed Hastra a cup of water.

“Flakes fell as I entered the gate.” Hastra drank. I’m thirstier than I knew. She smacked her lips as the dryness washed away.

“Is Last Landing at peace now?”

“Oh, you know it is. Hastra sent word with the bird weeks ago.” Zelma shouldered her way onto the bench next to Hastra with a grin and an expectant glance at her sister’s food.

“What is needed is given.” The other’s around them mumbled the saying with Hastra. My voice sounds smoother after the water. She shifted near her younger sister and lowered her voice. “I really need to speak with you, Zelma.”

“Eat first.” Zelma offered Hastra bread.

“I can take the plate with me but I must tell you fresh news.”

Zelma’s pale green eyes shifted between the food and Hastra’s furrowed brow. The young woman’s head tilted and her smile faded. “As new as when?”

Hastra leaned close again. “Now, at the gate.”

“Well, fine. We can go to our room I suppose.”

The sisters rose and excused themselves from those sitting near them. Hastra took her plate and followed Zelma among the tables with a wince. The hip’s so tight in those few moments. I’ll need someone’s prayers if healing is given. They exited into a narrow side-hall with fewer lamps shining against the darkness.

Zelma turned back and gasped. “You’re limping!”

“Now you notice.”

The younger woman’s gaze lowered to the floor. “Don’t scold me, you’ve just returned.”

“You’re right, dear, of course. I’m tired, hurting and hungry.” She patted her sister’s clasped hands.

“You could have eaten in the hall. What’s so urgent?”

They resumed walking and turned down another passage with less lights than the last. Zelma’s mass of wild hair flamed red even in the gloom.

“I fell off my horse when…”

The candles faded. A snake-faced hobgoblin stepped out of a darkened door by Hastra. The troll drew a curved sword. She uttered a wordless shout and dropped her plate. Hastra thrust her hands at the creature. She stumbled on her sore leg as shadow descended. The hobgoblin’s dark eyes glittered malevolence. A merciless grin spread wide and revealed discolored fangs.

“No.” Hastra’s senses failed as the sword whistled at her. Darkness snuffed her thoughts.

End of Part 1 (Part 2 will be posted within a week)

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