Fantasy Fiction

Tuesday Tales: Shadow of the Beast Part 3

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I’m now sharing some short stories on Tuesdays. Today, the story continues with part 3; you can click on the following links to find part 1 and part 2 . This is the beginning of the story and I’ll share the next two parts over the next couple of weeks. This material is copyrighted so all rights are mine and this cannot be reproduced or used without permission (reblogs are welcome since it only uses a part of the content but if you want to reproduce the entire post you need to contact me for permission). With that bit of information, enjoy the story! Please forgive any errors…

Shadow of the Beast, Part 3

By P. H. Solomon

The sergeant called his men to order. When the soldiers exited, they grumbled while Sa-hatap sat astride his mount, hood pulled against rising wind. The clamorous soldiers’ voices rose in rebellion. He kicked his horse into a walk. They could follow or not. The weird howling echoed down the valley.

Silence descended among the milling soldiers.

“Mount up! Now! Or our commanders will know of your disobedience.”

Sa-hatap glanced over his shoulder and found the sergeant with one hand on his sword and the other on the bag containing the seeing-orb.  They climbed into their saddles without further complaint.

They rode through deeper snow covering the road, following poles placed as markers. The horses labored and snorted for more than an hour. The sun dipped toward the ridgeline.

Sa-hatap patted the flute shoved in a pocket. Now for the song that needed playing. A dirge for him fit him best. He exhaled a cloudy sigh. Either way he’d die.

Slogging out of a stand of blanketed firs, they gazed down a slope where the valley dipped into a natural bowl speckled with stands of trees. The horses whickered at the scent of a dead mountain goat scattered in red snow ahead.

They should stop now.

Sa-hatap grasped the sword-hilt. “Wait here. I will go on alone.”

The sergeant grimaced but answered with a curt nod.

Sa-hatap kicked his mount. None of them wanted to go on. No choices for him though. Better to get this over now rather than freeze. The horse skirted the carcass while the soldiers retreated into the trees for cover.

You have choices. Do what they want or what I want.

“Little choice, but I’ll play the songs.”

Those men will thank you.

“Small comfort when I’m dead.”

Silence suffused Sa-hatap in the cold stillness. The horse snorted and whickered long after passing the carcass. Nothing moved in the valley of snow and trees. He reined the horse toward an outcrop of rock rising out of the valley and surrounded by pine and fir. Sa-hatap hobbled his horse close against the cliff and fed the gelding from a bag of oats. He lit a fire and gathered dead-wood.

The red sun slipped below western peaks and bathed the valley in red-gold light. Sa-hatap ate and waited. He was a worm on a hook. He’d never fish again without remembering this predicament. Hunger melted from his belly. He tilted his head and watched the sky with a sigh.

When the howl echoed among the ridges the horse whickered. Sa-hatap drew his sword, laid the weapon by his side and knelt to his prayer.

The wind sighed.

His heart thudded in his throat. His mouth was as dry as a desert.

This venture was hopeless when he accepted it. He rubbed his thighs. He may as well be naked in the snow. He clasped his hands, adjusted his sword’s position and clasped them again.

The wind moaned through the branches overhead.

The akor-sunash howled again.

Sa-hatap swallowed but there was no moisture in his mouth. He closed his eyes and performed a breathing exercise. Minutes of stillness followed. He exhaled and words rolled from his stillness. “Why bring me here to die?”

Watch and wait, play a song.

Sa-hatap warmed food with tea and waited as he took his meal. The world faded into darkness held at bay by his flitting fire. He ate and then blew tuneless chords, running his stiff fingers over the holes. His practice formed into the dirge played for Ashlultum’s father, a mournful song she oft requested on dull days.

A snarl echoed closer, followed moments later by a mournful howl.

The horse squealed and yanked against the rope.

Sa-hatap ignored the animal. He shifted the tune to a celebration song, again played on happier occasions at the empress’s court. Sa-hatap swayed along with his music, lost in its cheer as mist rose among the leafless thickets and tree-trunks.

The creature’s next howl sounded different, less like a tortured beast. More–human.

His sword flashed reflections of firelight, where it lay by his legs. Play on.

Sa-hatap shut his eyes as the music floated him in its current like the reflective water of Lake Winsu when morning mist swirled over its stillness.

Through the trees, the heavy tread of a large beast drew him back to awareness.

The horse shied and stamped in the snow.

A branch snapped. The akor-sunash snorted louder than his horse.

Sa-hatap blew the tune into the frigid dark. He clung to his disciplined calm and opened his eyes.

A shadow, silhouetted against the light of the rising moon, hesitated at the edge of the trees. The akor-sunash swayed and capered. Sa-hatap frowned. What was the accursed monarch doing?

Dancing. Ashlultum danced. He arched an eyebrow but concentrated on his fingering.

The misshapen figure stumbled closer on clawed toes. Snow crunched with each step.

Sa-hatap shifted to a ballad sung by his own people.

The akor-sunash slouched into the firelight. It huffed mist and squatted. The creature loomed as a consuming shadow of his light. Twisted, blood-stained fingers twitched.

Sa-hatap nodded but continued. Those horns shrank, the fur thinned. He breathed his meditative peace into the melody and ignored his cold-aching fingers. Stopping now was death. He and the akor-sunash swayed with the tune.

The moon peered into the valley. Sa-hatap drew to a close and held stiff fingers to the fire. If only he could do what was needed next.

Part-akor-sunash and woman watched him, unmoving. “Why are you here?”  Snarls lashed the night air.

“I’ve brought a gift.” Sa-hatap offered the flute.

“I need–blood and meat. You’ll do.” The creature’s hungry tongue lolled and its blood-shot gaze flicked to the horse. “Four-legs, even better.”

“You need this more than my blood. Here, it won’t hurt. The music has been good for you.” He stretched over the fire but never averted his gaze.

“I will kill you.”

“You can try.”

Yellow eyes narrowed as lips spread, baring fangs. Sa-hatap offered the flute unflinching, his gaze fixed on the hairy face.

“I’ve killed others.”

“So have I. Take this instead, trust me.”

The akor-sunash reached for the instrument. The paw drew back. Its head and horns wagged. “No! I mean please, help me–” The yellow eyes rolled and came back hazel–eyes Sa-hatap recognized.

He extended the flute further over the crackling flames. “Take this, it will help.”

The akor-sunash rose and paced, growling. It stopped, chested heaving. “Play.” The whispered tone sounded far more familiar than moments earlier.

“You try.” Sa-hatap waved the flute.

Firelight glanced off the sword at the edge of his vision. Watch for your chance.

“Do you need help?”

“No!” The fangs flashed in the light and snapped. Then the monster whimpered. “Yes.”

“Trust me. Take this bit of help.”

The akor-sunash snarled and gnashed its teeth. The jaws ground and neck muscles clenched with the conflicting effort.

Distorted claws overlapped with human fingers, both trembling against the other, reached again for the flute. The hand–her hand–grasped the flute. Ashlultum separated from the beast and swooned naked into the snow.

The akor-sunash slouched. Its shriek boomed through the night. The monster staggered back into the edge of light.

Sa-hatap snatched his sword. He leapt the fire and stood over Ashlultum.

“Mine!” The akor-sunash gnashed its fangs. The demon charged Sa-hatap.

The Spirit-sword flashed pale in the moonlight. Stab the heart. A single blow.

He dodged flashing talons at his throat. Sa-hatap shuffled forward and thrust.

The akor-sunash leapt away from the blade. It lunged back at him.

Sa-hatap side-stepped and thrust. The blade flashed like lightning and pierced the creature’s heart.

The akor-sunash stood as if frozen from the swift attack. It growled pain and hatred.  Claws waved with feeble effort as the beast stumbled. Enraged fire faded from the yellow eyes. The demon collapsed. A shadow rose from a final wheeze and dissipated on the night wind.

Sa-hatap nudged the desiccated husk steaming in the snow.

Ashlultum groaned.

He wrapped the empress in the rough blankets. She peered at Sa-hatap through blinking eyes. Her shivering hand clutched the flute.

“I’ve got you now.” He offered her water with a bow.

Ashlultum drank, gagged and drank more. “Last I remember drinking it was spell-checked wine.” She gazed into the cup and back at Sa-hatap. “Poison, I think. Nightmares started with pain, blood. My hands had claws.” She raised fingers to her face. “Just a dream.”

“Sleep now. It’s hours before sunrise. You’re safe.”

When dawn edged the eastern ridgeline, Ashlultum stirred. Sa-hatap turned from his vigil at the movement.

“I was poisoned, betrayed as you interpreted.”

Sa-hatap nodded. “You were trapped in a spell merging you with a demon.”

She shuddered. “Enusat did it. He gave me my cup with his spell against poison.”

“He did.”

Silence settled between them as Sa-hatap stirred the fire with a stick. The empress stared into the embers. “You risked your life for me.”

Sa-hatap shrugged. “I die here or when I return.”

“I see. They sent you then.”

“They needed the heir on the throne.”

The guardsmen thumped among the trees and dislodged snow from branches. The sergeant reached for the orb.  He motioned to the black smear in the snow where hollow horns lay. “It is done? The creature is dead?”

Ashlultum stood with her blanket clasped about her shoulders. “It is done and I am safe.”

The soldiers gasped and fumbled with their reins.

Sa-hatap stepped beside her. “Pay homage to your Empress.” He went to one knee.

The soldiers scrambled from their horses and prostrated themselves in the snow.

Ashlultum stepped bare-foot to the sergeant. “Are you yet my soldiers?”

“Yes, Empress. We are yours to command.”

“Good. Call your commander with the orb. Here, stand beside me to show my face.”

The sergeant brought the orb from his pouch and breathed on it. “Gorcin reporting.” Morning light flickered on the orb.

“You are late.” The gruff voice of a commander paused and then resumed. “Who is this?”

Ashlultum took the orb and held it close. “I am your Empress. Do you see me now?”

The officer stammered. “I do. I meant no insult. You’re, you’re–”

“Yes, alive and safe and myself again. Do you serve me yet?”

“I do.”

“You will arrest Enusat and hold him until I return.” She handed the seeing-orb back to Gorcin while the officer in the mirror begged pardon and swore fealty.

The empress raised her arm. “Arise as my honor-guard.” She motioned to Sa-hatap. “My new household governor–may he be rewarded with long life and his people with peace– commands according to my wishes.”

Sa-hatap swept the spirit-sword from its sheath. He laid it before the Empress of Seddessa. “I will serve you, empress.”

The morning sun gleamed upon the blade. Its brightness blinded them all for a moment. The beast’s shadow never lay across your path. May you reside in peace like the calm of your Lake Winsu beneath the smiling morning sun.

Not many days later, the Seddessan markets rang with announcement of Empress Ashlultum’s return from the jaws of seditious assassination. Instead of rumor, criers shouted the name of Sa-hatap to announce the new Court-governor. The bodies of the conspirators hung dead from the city gates, among them the former Court-governor, nameless like the street dust trod upon by market gossips.

End

Thanks for reading today. As usual, I look forward to your responses in the comments section to which I will respond as soon as I can. For more information about my writing, see the page about The Bow of Hart Saga or the Welcome page.

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Real Characters: She Can’t Be That!

Allison, the fell warrior-princess, drew her sword and advanced on the band of ragged louts confronting her. “You’ll soon feel the fiery claw that is ‘The Tigress’, you cowards.”

The men laughed and doubled-over. “You can’t hurt us!”

Her faced scrunched and a flush rose on her cheeks. “I can’t.”

The leader stepped forward with a grin. “You don’t know how to use that. You can’t be a warrior.”

“I can’t?”

“No you’re just here, well, for the women to identify with.”

Allison scratched the back of her head. “I am?”

“Sure, now run along and sew or something but try to be serious and well-respected.”

Joan of ArcThe other ruffians guffawed. “Yeah! And try to look beautiful while you’re at it.”

Allison walked away shaking her head. “I don’t understand, I trained an everything.”

You’ve read it. I’ve read it. It’s a common complaint on internet discussion threads; the female warrior is overdone and become farce. Such characters are written merely to gain and keep women readers but they aren’t realistic – not a reflection of reality in the real world so they can’t be in the fictional world. The complaints go on and often twirl into other complaints about overdone tropes of various sorts. Frequently, one wonders if these people are just tired of the grand trope of fantasy altogether (and my advice would be to read some other genres for a while – or better yet some non-fiction).

But I say, the woman-warrior is welcome in fantasy and should even be celebrated! Why? Well lets examine some of the reasons.

She’s been there all along

Now I’ve heard some people complain that female characters should be a warrior and domestic – it would be unique. Others retort that it’s not realistic and can’t be done. Well, it has been done and it is realistic.

The best example is from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Eowyn is a princess of Rohan who has taken care of her king in his magical dotage. We meet just after she has cared for her brother as he died. When trouble comes, Eowyn is called upon to lead her people while the men go off to war. But, being wearied of her life and finding trouble in her back yard she chooses to take up the sword. And it’s a good thing she does so, because she does what no man can do – kill the Lord of the Nazgul. Tolkien has been accused for years for his sexism in not having more women in the story as well as implying that women shouldn’t fight. But he places Eowyn right in line of danger, giving her, arguably one of the best scenes in the whole trilogy – not to mention a great line. It translated to the big screen well.

But that’s not realistic

What’s that? Still arguing about this trope? It can’t happen? Do you think women can’t and won’t take up the sword when necessary, even coming from a domestic background? Think again because history provides us with a singularly excellent example: Joan of Arc. She was a farm-girl and you can imagine what that life was like – very farm and domestic-like. But after seeing a vision she heads off to volunteer to save France from the English. It’s the stuff of a great fantasy tale. Somehow, my character, Limbreth in The Bow of Destiny, even picked up a few similarities with Joan of Arc.

What’s that? It’s only one example? Wrong again – what about the Amazons (check the part about Sarmatian burials). They’re just a myth? Well, think about that again. Secrets of the Dead had an episode where Amazons were examined as historically real. Apparently they lived in that area of the world and later migrated across the Russian steppes.

VikingStill not satisfied? According to a recent archaeological study, women may have make up almost half of Viking warrior burials. Yep, that’s right, almost half. All those Vikings storming the shores of Europe to raid villages and towns had plenty of women in the fray and pillaging. Surprised? I’m not. While woman often have domestic duties in most cultures throughout history, they too need to be momma-bears when necessary. Regardless, there are multiple cultures which recounted tales of the Shieldmaiden.

As for the princess idea, lets put that to rest as well. Ever heard of Boudica? She was a Celtic queen who led an uprising against the Romans. Before the “rebellion” was put down she and her people won several battles against the formidable Roman legions.

So take a deep breath and let’s not get worked up about the trope and whether aspects of how female warriors are portrayed are possible. They are indeed possible, however the character, like all, should be presented authentically as possible.

Authenticity

So there can be shown that women were part of many tales about heroic feats.While the female warrior is historically present in many accounts all the sexy depictions are not. Many of the tales recount that Amazons and Shieldmaidens were dressed as men. What does this mean? Those hot-looking breastplates are not accurate. In fact, breast bulges would not even be structurally sound defensive accoutrements.

The importance to understand is that heroic female characters do belong but should not be cast as sex symbols because those easily become unrealistic. In this case, Martin’s female knight, Brienne, is both realistic and authentic. So I say, “Long live the trope!” But only as long as it fits and is presented well which is what all readers ask of any story.

What fantasy tropes bother you and why? Please share your thoughts in the comments section.

To find out more about The Bow of Destiny, click over to one of these online retailers:

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IMG_4154-EditAbout the Author

P. H. Solomon lives in the greater Birmingham, AL area where he strongly dislikes yard work and sanding the deck rail. However, he performs these duties to maintain a nice home for his loved ones as well as the family’s German Shepherds. In his spare time, P. H. rides herd as a Computer Whisperer on large computers called servers (harmonica not required). Additionally, he enjoys reading, running, most sports and fantasy football. Having a degree in Anthropology, he also has a wide array of more “serious” interests in addition to working regularly to hone his writing. The Bow of Destiny is his first novel-length title with more soon to come.

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Clip art licensed from Microsoft Office.

 

Characters from The Bow of Saga: Spark

This is the second of several posts revealing more about characters from The Bow of Destiny. You can read about Athson here. If you like dogs, you’ll love today’s post!

SparkSpark was a rather interesting and late addition to The Bow of Destiny. You see, Spark is a dog but not just any dog. He’s a dog that only Athson sees while he’s not taking doses of his elven medicine, Soul-ease. You might wonder if Spark is real and so does Athson. However, Athson considers Spark an old friend who watches out for him.
The idea for this invisible dog came from my daughter who did some alpha reading on the book last year. She suggested adding a dog so Spark is what I came up with. In the book, Athson identifies this dog as a Mountain Hound but to you and me he’s a German Shepherd – or very much like one.
If you’ve read my bio you know we own two German Shepherds so you can guess the origin of this character. But there’s more to the characterization than just being like a common breed. Spark is actually based on both of my dogs, appearing more like our female, Chloe, while sometimes acting rather like our male, Sam.

GSDsChloe & Sam
While Chloe is all guard-dog and ready for action all the time, Sam is more of a friendly bloke with a nasty side when necessary. But the unique quality of Sam is his way of communicating with us – he wags his tail for “yes” and doesn’t for “no”. Don’t believe me? Here’s a sample of Sam (Spark)-talk which is through a series of yes and no questions (and of course you have to catch Sam at a good time since he’s usually easily distracted like most dogs by things like food):
Me: “Sam, is it cold outside?”
Sam wags his tail – and it is (or was when this happened).
Me: “Sam, do you like the cold?”
Sam wags his tail because he really doesn’t like the hot Alabama summer but thrives in what cold weather we have.
Me: “Sam, do you want to sleep outside?”
Sam doesn’t wag his tail because, while he likes cold weather, he prefers to stay near his people like most GSDs do. This question is one that’s meant to ensure he’s really answering rather than just wagging his tail in distraction.
Me: “Sam, do you like Chloe?”
No wag because Chloe can really pesters him and bites him often since she’s rather feisty.
Me: “Sam, did Chloe bite you today?”
Sam wags his tail. Funny thing about dogs is that, being like wolf puppies, the males often let females win. Sam is much larger but always lets Chloe win.
Me: “Sam, do you want Chloe to sleep outside in the cold?”
Sam wags his tail. Yep that’s right, Sam wants Chloe to sleep outside while he gets to sleep inside.
We often can ascertain if Sam feels sick (he gets colitis) or achy (he’s getting a little older now and is starting to get stiff joints). We even found out that Sam wants a pet cat though this is likely the fact that he actually misses the old cat, Becky, who was still alive when Sam came to live with us. The cat hated Sam but he loved her. But you get the idea – Sam talks in his own way. He’s rather intelligent that way and even plays tricks on Chloe to get her to do what he wants. Now don’t think that Chloe is dumb by any means. She recognizes aggression easily and can solve some puzzles that Sam just won’t bother with.
So guess who speaks Sam-talk? Spark! I have a number of instances where Spark reveals something to Athson about his surroundings that Athson just doesn’t get. But you, the reader, get to understand that Spark may just know more about what’s going on at times than Athson.

Spark appears throughout The Bow of Hart Saga. To find out more about the character, click the links for The Bow of Destiny, An Arrow Against the Wind or The White Arrow. The entire series is not available on Audible from Podium Publishing:

Amazon

 

About the Author

P. H. Solomon lives in the greater Birmingham, AL area where he strongly dislikes yard work and sanding the deck rail. However, he performs these duties to maintain a nice home for his loved ones as well as the family’s German Shepherds. In his spare time, P. H. rides herd as a Computer Whisperer on large computers called servers (harmonica not required). Additionally, he enjoys reading, running, most sports and fantasy football. Having a degree in Anthropology, he also has a wide array of more “serious” interests in addition to working regularly to hone his writing. His first novel, The Bow of Destiny was named 2016 Book of the Year by Fantasia Reviews and is the first book of The Bow of Hart Saga. The sequel novel, An Arrow Against the Wind, was released in April of 2017. The third book of the series, The White Arrow, is due to be released during the Fall of 2017. P. H. Solomon also authored the award winning short story, The Black Bag, which won best published short story at SCWC 2012. P. H. is also a member of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA).

Prequel short stories to The Bow of Hart Saga:

Trading Knives Amazon

What Is Needed Amazon

Download and listen to the prequels for free at AudFans

   Trading Knives 1   What Is Needed 4