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What is Needed Part 6

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 3Part 4 and Part 5. 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 6)

by P. H. Solomon

Troll-wolves howled and Hastra slipped into the shade between trees with Zelma and Howart. If only we can avoid the pursuit one last time. The Tower’s just ahead if I remember correctly. She pinched her lower lip and peek along the old road they followed.

The sun dangled between corona-rimmed clouds and the snow-capped peaks of the Grey Spires. Sunshine bathed the path ahead of the three furtive shapes with golden light.

Zelma’s breath puffed mist. “Is it still clear?”

Howart loomed in the shadow of the trees. “They aren’t as close as yesterday.”

“They make enough noise to scare everything for miles. But I don’t see any scouts so let’s go.” Hastra eased out of hiding onto the overgrown road and her two companions followed.

Her stomach rumbled but Hastra dared not call for a halt so she ate bread from her bag. Two weeks and the food’s still good though this is hard now. She kicked a root and stumbled but Zelma steadied her.

At the head of the long rise Hastra spied the pile of weathered stone named the Old Tower. Where Withlings used to go to see and hear instruction or speak rituals. Now it’s the dead end of the trap Kregen sprung on us. They staggered over the path against wind that snapped and swirled across the end of the headland that thrust into the booming sea.

Horns and Troll-wolves howled. Much closer now. “We must hurry now, sister.”

Zelma walked on with eyes wide and shivering.

Hastra brushed hair from her face. Is she cold or afraid? The edifice loomed out of the gloom of dusk in the east. Distant lightning flashed across the Bay of Storms from the east and lit the roofless tower-top. It defies wind and weather. Gusts tugged at the low scrub-trees scattered around its feet. This isolated end of nowhere may be the end of us. If only Eloch…

The travelers hurried into the shadow of the Old Tower and took refuge from the blasts in a shallow alcove. Snippets of howling and horns broke through the roar of wind. They’re coming now. There’s no escape. Hastra hugged herself but still shivered. “Now what?”

“I don’t know except go up.” Howart steadied himself with a trembling hand on the stone. He leaned against the wall, slid into a crouch and laid his head on scratched arms folded over his knees. A ragged sigh escaped from his thin lips. “Just need to rest a while.”

Hastra peered along the road. We’re all spent and bound to die. She touched the death wound from which she’d risen. “What is needed is given.”

Horn blasts floated on the wind. Zelma’s lips quivered and dark circles ringed her eyes above pale skin. Her hair reached from beneath her gray hood. “They’re coming now.”

Hastra nodded. Even her hair seems faded. “They’ve found our scent. We can’t stay here long. If we are needed atop the tower then let’s climb.”

Soft sobs escaped from Zelma. “Then what?”

Hastra embraced her sister. “We’ll pray, Zelma. All will be well in the end. We’re here for a reason just because we’re still breathing when we should be weeks dead.”

Zelma forced a thin smile through her tears. “It will never be the same as it was, but perhaps we see better atop the tower.”

Hastra stirred. “Trolls are near. It’s time.”

Zelma’s hair fell across her face as she touched Howart’s head. The Grendonese man remained still. “He’s fallen asleep.”

Hastra’s head whipped around at the close sound of horns. Zelma jumped and Howart started.

The gaunt man stood. “We must go and seek Eloch’s guidance.”

They scurried from the alcove and climbed the stairwell that wound around the tower’s girth. Wind flailed the surviving Withlings and the storm thundered in the bay as they fought for each ascending step. They ignored their weariness as horns sounded closer.

Hastra staggered. Surely there’s time for us. She thrust her hands before her and pulled for the next step as rain pattered the stone.

Horns sounded closer along with hounds baying, clear and constant, as the din of pursuit carried over the wind. They grappled their way to the top and knelt with their cloaks twisting in the violent wind.

Snarls announced the arrival of trolls. The troll-wolves howled. Kregen’s voice rose in the wind. “Quickly, take them.”

Hastra raised her eyebrows to Howart and Zelma. There’s fear on their faces. If only we can meditate in all this. “Pretend it’s the Hall of Silence.”

Hastra shut her eyes and raised her hands. What is needed is given and I need focus. She ignored the troll boots clamoring on the steps. She breathed and reached for practiced calm. Move in me, O Eloch. She exhaled. Welcome warmth bloomed at the edge of her awareness and she waited rather than reached for it in conscious thought. Warmth swallowed her fear and grief.

Hastra’s eyes blinked open and shut as her usual trembling at the presence of Eloch took hold. Her arms shook and her body quaked. Zelma and Howart undulated like grass in the wind in Hastra’s brief glimpses.

The clouds spun into a whirlwind that detached from main storm and churned toward the tower. Hastra closed her eyes. Calm as a sleeping babe. Indecipherable words erupted from her mouth.

The wind rumbled and drowned the clamor of troll horns and hounds. Hastra’s body stilled with the wind and her eyes opened. Light glowed in the spinning gust. We’re protected from our enemy. Her arms dropped to her sides and then she fell over and stared at the shape moving amid the light and whirlwind.

Beyond the silence with the whirlwind, Kregen cringed at the stairwell. He stretched out his arms and shouted unheard words. He shook his fist with a grimace and fled.

“You have come as children in need. Will you serve on?” The voice suffused Hastra with the rich whisper of peace and inexorable power.

Kregen’s offer rose with the flash of the knife. Hastra smiled as tears spilled from her eyes. “I will serve.” Zelma and Howart answered the same.

“Zelma Vorcinni, should you choose to follow, to you shall be given the task of protecting for long years that which shall come to you in time. You shall want for nothing, not even companionship in desolate places.”

“Howart Balto, should you choose to follow, to you shall be given the task of hiding against chaos what shall come to you after a while. No power of time or change shall pierce the bulwark about you in the midst of confusion.”

“Hastra Vorcinni, should you choose to go, to you shall be given the task of labor against innumerable foes, yet you shall find rest and plenty in the midst of want and danger.”

“And now, my children reach to me if you will come and be comforted and healed…”

At Eloch’s urging, the three Withlings stretched out their hands as one.

The whirlwind fell away.

Hastra rose on one elbow amid a grass covered field at dusk. “Zelma? Howart?” She sat alone with her bag that held her food and the Book of Prophecies.

End of Part 6

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. The campaign ends tonight!

Thanks for reading!

PHS

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) 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 5)

by P. H. Solomon

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

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’s got a better grasp of this than me. We may be waiting for the rats to chew us to the bone. She shuddered. Does my heart beat? Will I live through the pain of rat bites? She squeezed Zelma’s hand again. Better not mention that to her.

As the time passed, Hastra dozed several times and lost track of time. Once 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, I still get 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. They’ve brought us food or come to drag us before Kregen again. Wait, that’s no flickering torch. Her leg-irons scraped on the floor when she stirred and 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 figure in shadow 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. We need the food soon. I’m going to faint without it. She touched the rent in her dress where Kregen’s knife-blade killed her. There’s too many miracles in this since that moment.

The Withlings gained the main level the 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 are 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 set us free without keys. Hastra peeked into the dining hall. The trolls fought and laughed, their tusks and fangs flashed in the light. I’ll run if they notice me. She sighed 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 soon 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. I never can quite see 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. I know him know. She wiped her sorrow from her cheeks.

“Time to leave.” The man in the hat left the chapel and 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. Clean air. She sucked in a long breath. 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)

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. 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 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 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