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What is Needed, Part 5

 

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), Part 3 and Part 4 This series is a companion to The Bow of Destiny (Part 1 of The Bow of Hart Saga). 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. This material is copyrighted and not intended for reproduction except at the author’s consent.

 

What is Needed (Part 5)

by P. H. Solomon

Their chains clanked and scraped the stone floor as the three of them shifted.

Zelma’s resolve slipped into weeping while she clung to Hastra’s hand. “How are we alive?”

“I don’t know.” Hastra touched her blood-stained dress and the hole where the Kregen stabbed her. She ran her finger along the line of her mortal wound but found no blood. Best not probe that further. She withdrew her hand and squeezed Zelma’s with the other.

Howart cleared throat. “It’s the prophecy. We live because of it.”

“Why not the others then?” Hastra chewed her lower lip.

Beyond Zelma, Howart’s chains rattled. “What is needed is given.”

Hastra mumbled the response with Zelma. “But what has been given besides life? We are chained in darkness and useless here.”

“We must wait and see.”

“Perhaps.” He had a better grasp of the moment than she. They might be waiting for the rats to chew them to the bone. She shuddered. Did my heart beat? Would she live through the pain of rat bites? She squeezed Zelma’s hand again. Best not mention anything to her.

The time passed and Hastra dozed. She awoke to rat’s fur brushing her ankle. She kicked with both feet. The rat squealed and it pattered away.

Zelma gasped at Hastra’s commotion. “What’s that?”

“Nothing, just woke from a dream.”

“I heard something running on the floor.”

Hastra jumped as Howart’s deeper voice boomed in the silence. “There are rats in here.”

Zelma’s chains rattled as she pulled her feet closer.

After that Hastra sat awake and waited for the rat to return. Teeth gnawed on boards in the darkness and matched her hunger pangs. At least she still got hungry. She rubbed her raw wound inside her dress. Better than the alternative.

Later, the door’s lock snicked open and woke Hastra. Light shined around the edges of the door. Trolls with food or they’ll drag us before Kregen again. It wasn’t a flickering torch. She stirred and her leg-irons scraped the floor. A rat squealed as it scrabbled away.

Howart and Zelma woke with groans as the door opened. Hastra squinted at the glow and her eyes watered. A silhouette stepped into the doorway. Her chains clicked and fell open. She gasped as the figure with the wide-brimmed hat waved them to the door.

Zelma leaned close grasped Hastra’s arm. “What’s going on? Who’s that?”

Hastra patted her sister’s trembling hand and opened her mouth to speak. The hat – he’s the one who healed me. “I think we should follow.”

Howart kicked his chains away. “Who is it? Why should we follow.”

“First, he’s got a light. Second, he let us loose and third, he healed my leg several months ago.” Hastra struggled to her feet and her knees wobbled.

The stranger moved into the passage beyond the room and the light faded as he walked away.

Howart stumbled to the door. “Hurry, he’s leaving.”

Hastra and Zelma leaned against each other and followed. They stepped into the hall as their rescuer turned a far corner. The three Withlings hobbled after the light past broken doors and intersecting passages that stretched into brooding darkness.

They arrived at the stairwell out of the lower cellar and Howart paused. “This isn’t the way out. It’s back up to Kregen and trolls. Should we risk it?”

Zelma climbed a few steps before she turned back. “Maybe they are gone and this man came to free us.”

Hastra followed her sister. “Stay in the dark but I think we have no other choice.”

They gained the upper cellar and drew near the stair to the keep when the noise of trolls echoed from above them.

Howart stretched his thin arm in the sisters way. “Still here. Where’s he leading us, back to them?”

The man’s light faded and then grew brighter. He waved to them. “Come, it’s safe. There’s food for you.”

Hastra shrugged to Howart and pushed past his out-flung arm. “Think how he set us free without keys. I’m following him. Anyway, he says there’s food.”

Hastra scurried on the stair and the other’s feet scuffed on the stone behind her. They needed the food soon. She’d faint without it. She touched the rent in her dress where Kregen’s knife-blade killed her. There were too many miracles in this since that moment.

The Withlings gained the main level and hustled after the man in the wide-brimmed hat. Lumps lay in the shadows of the unlit main hall.

Hastra’s gaze touched the hand at the moment Zelma gasped and wept. They’re dead, all the Withlings were dead. Fixed stares greeted Hastra wherever she whirled.

Zelma covered her mouth with her hands. Howart gaped and his eyes bulged from their deep hollows. They wound through the hacked bodies until they stood by the door to the dining hall where trolls hooted and snarled.

Their rescuer waved his arm into the room. “Eat, take what you need. When you finish I will show you out.”

Hastra whispered in spite of the din from the trolls. “But we’ll be seen. They’ll kill us.”

The man in the hat pointed to a table where no trolls sat. “I have everything you need prepared. Go on.”

She glanced at her companions and their doubtful expressions. He had set them free without keys. Hastra peeked into the dining hall. The trolls fought and laughed, their tusks and fangs flashed in the light. She’d run if they noticed her. She held her breath and stepped through the doorway.

The trolls never noticed her. Hastra lowered her head and scurried toward the table laden with food. Around her trolls howled their vile glee but none of them even glanced her way.

At the table Hastra snatched food without thinking and shoved it in her mouth. She chewed and groaned. Howart and Zelma joined her and they ate their fill. Howart found sacks into which they shoved the excess for provisions. They returned to the doorway and the man in the hat.

“Follow me.”

Hastra bent and cocked her head as their rescuer strode past her. She never quite saw his face. She hefted her bag and walked behind the sight of his brown coat and hat.

The man in the hat led them to the chapel. Benches and chairs lay overturned and they picked their way through the ruined room.

Their rescuer kicked a pile of broken wood and pointed to a leather-bound book lying spine up and open. He cocked his head to Hastra. “You must take this burden. Write the prophecy in it and all your visions.”

Hastra stumbled through the refuse, knelt and gathered the book to her breast. She blinked tears and nodded. She knew him now. She wiped her sorrow from her cheeks.

“Time to leave.” The man in the hat turned the wreckage. The three surviving Withlings trailed after him.

They followed out the front door but turned to a postern gate down the wall.

Hastra blinked under the gray sky and the brushed her hair across her face. She sucked in a long breath. Clean air. At the gate Hastra paused with her companions.

The man in the hat pushed the gate open. “Go to the old tower if you still serve as Withlings.”

They shuffled out the gate. Here the chill wind snapped their tattered cloaks and bit their faces. Hastra hobbled on the narrow trail beyond the walls of Withling’s Watch.

Zelma’s voice rang in the gusts. “He’s gone. Who was he?”

Hastra cocked her head at the gate and motioned to her sister and Howart. “Come, we’ve a mission to fulfill now. Maybe we’ll see him again.” It’s just us now. “What is needed is given.”

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

Please share your thoughts and ideas in the comments section. I’d also love to connect with you over social media so check my Contact page for that information. See the News page for announcements and remember to sign-up to receive news and posts by email. I’ve added a new sign-up tab on my FaceBook page to simplify the process. New followers can download The Black Bag via free coupon today! Also, the cover of my book, The Bow of Destiny, was revealed recently so take a look.

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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). 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. 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 tongue flicked between needle-like fangs that flashed yellow in torchlight. The blade-point pressed against Hastra’s throat and she raised her chin. Kregen ran out of the darkness and flame the night of her visions. He was 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 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 tusked bugbear roared spittle into the gaunt Withling’s face and snatched his shirt. The troll 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, doubled over and crumpled into a groaning heap. The other 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. She her teeth with her tongue. She still had them all. She wiped her mouth with her sleeve but grimaced all the more with the pain. Her hand trembled with prickling pain. Theyd lashed her so tight she lost feeling. She wiggled her fingers and groaned.

The trolls herded the captives out of the cellar complex. They shoved or snarled Hastra and her fellow Withlings if they dawdled. Vile creatures. If only Eloch revealed his wishes. No unction bloomed in Hastra. The lack of direction was 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. So many actually considered this offer. She closed her mouth. Something must be done.

Elder Tokla stepped before Kregen and stood silent. The dwarf’swoven 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 fragrance 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 shuffled 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 throng. 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 continued 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 wasn’t her turn yet. She pushed through the frozen mystics. Zelma and Howart shouldered past. Not you as well, sister.

Elder Margen strolled from the crowd.

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

The white-haired Shildran’s voice never faltered. “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 Rokan betrayer ripped the daggar free.

The gaunt Withling folded onto his side.

Zelma squirmed from the crowd.

Tears trailed along Hastra’s cheeks.

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 and 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 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 hovered amid the hall. Even the trolls stood frozen where they stood.

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

Kregen’s gaze shifted 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 was real. She was dead. But they ended the prophecy. She touched her chest, found the rent in her flesh and her hand recoiled from it. Not even pain.

The troll thrust them into the empty storeroom. Their guards brought shackles , cut away their straps and locked their hands and feet. Their captors exited the room and barred the door.

Trolls growled beyond the door in their crude tongue that faded with the torchlight from under the door.

Darkness enshrouded them and silence followed with a cold embrace.

End of Part 4 (Part 5 will be re-posted on 12/13/14)

Please share your thoughts and ideas in the comments section. I’d also love to connect with you over social media so check my Contact page for that information. See the News page for announcements and remember to sign-up to receive news and posts by email. I’ve added a new sign-up tab on my FaceBook page to simplify the process. New followers can download The Black Bag via free coupon today! Also, the cover of my book, The Bow of Destiny, was revealed recently so take a look.

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Clip art licensed from Microsoft Office.

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 originally published for the closed 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. 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.

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

Hastra groaned. It had come. No, it had been here all along. She swung her bare feet onto 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. 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. It creaked opened. Lamp-light bloomed. 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 wide eyed, trembling Withlings gathered 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.” He held the shuttered lamp away from the wall. The skinny Withling pressed against the stone wall and slipped into the deeper darkness gathered below them .

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

Hastra pulled on her hood. She slunk after Howart and schooled her attention away from the trolls. She held her breath and crossed in the shadows. She ignored the screams. But her eyes flicked toward the movement. A bugbear stabbed feeble Durna. Tears pooled in her eyes at the sight of blood. She was so kind and now gone. Hastra rubbed her damp cheeks and faded into darkness.

They plunged into the upper cellars.

Hastra inhaled the mustiness as they descended. She winced at the destructive clamor and she blinked back tears for lost friends. Why couldn’t she find their 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. They were confused and angry with her. 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 thought her to blame. Maybe she 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 slick stair slowed them. Hastra held her skirt high and felt for each step with her foot. Dust tickled her nose. She covered her lower face with her sleeved arm and stifled a sneeze. If the trolls didn’t get them the foul air would. 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 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 from sheathes 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 were trapped! 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 re-posted on 12/6)

Please share your thoughts and ideas in the comments section. I’d also love to connect with you over social media so check my contact page for that information. See the News page for announcements and remember to sign-up to receive news and posts by email. I’ve added a new sign-up tab on my FaceBook page to simplify the process. New followers can download The Black Bag via free coupon today! Also, the cover of my book, The Bow of Destiny, was revealed recently so take a look.

Thanks for reading!

PHS

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