Sunday, 29 March 2015

Guest Post by Renee Scattergood, Author of the Shadow Stalker Series

Hello, everybody. Today I am hosting Renee Scattergood who was one of the writers in the blog tour that I participated in earlier this year.

She is pleased to announce the release of Episode 7 of the Shadow Stalker Series.

Welcome Renee.

 Renee Scattergood lives in Australia with her husband, Nathan, and daughter, Taiya. She has always been a fan of fantasy and was inspired to become a story-teller by George Lucas, but didn't start considering writing down her stories until she reached her late twenties. Now she enjoys writing fantasy. She is currently publishing her monthly Shadow Stalker series, and she has also published a prequel novella to the series called, Demon Hunt. Aside from writing, she loves reading (Fantasy, of course), watching movies with her family, and doing crafts and science experiments with her daughter. Find out more about her, and sign up for her newsletter on her blog:

Auren escapes the Dark Isle to find things are worse on Appolia than she imagined. Very few have survived the invasion of the Galvadi Empire, and even her best friend, Jade, has gone missing.

While attempting a rescue, Auren is captured and faces abuse and torture at the hands of her enemies. She knows as long as she can hide her true identity, she might succeed in helping the Coalition, but one of the Galvadi knows she is the delohi-saqu. For his silence, she is forced to pay the ultimate price.

About the Shadow Stalker Series:

Shadow Stalker is a series of short novellas (episodes) that tell the story of Auren, a young shadow stalker who is being hunted by the Galvadi Empire because of their belief that she will enslave the people of the Serpent Isles.

Episode 1: The Hidden Truth

Auren Trask's perfectly normal life is disrupted when the Galvadi invade, and she learns a startling secret about her past. A secret that will change her life forever.

Episode 2: The Delohi-Saqu's Fate

Auren is being targeted by the Council of Elders, and the only one who could put an end to their corruption is her father. But leaving the Dark Isle would turn Kado against her.

Episode 3: Shadows' Betrayal

After seeing the monster she will become, Auren swears not to leave the Dark Isle. Despite that, the elders are conspiring against her. To escape their scheming, she and Kado decide to explore the Dark Isle. But worse things await them in the forests.

Episode 4: Forbidden Love

Kado and Auren survive a deadly storm, but when Auren is forbidden from pursuing love with another young shadow stalker, will it be enough to drive a wedge between her and her foster father?

Episode 5: Destiny Reconciled Part 1

Auren and Kado accept that they may not be able to avoid her leaving the Dark Isle. Now they have to prepare for that eventuality. Will the training be more than Auren can handle?

About Demon Hunt:

Auren longs for adventure and a break from her tedious life on Appolia. It's the start of summer, and she is looking forward to her yearly camping trip with her foster father, Kado. She believes these trips are for fun, but when they arrive on Luten Isle, Kado informs her that she is a shadow stalker, and she is in training.

One morning, Auren decides to take her training into her own hands. She only means to practice seeing the veil to the shadow world, the world of the shadow people and the source of their power. Instead, she opens the veil releasing a demon, a guardian of the shadow world, into the physical world.

With the deadly beast loose, she and Kado don't have long to hunt it down and return it to where it belongs, or many innocent people could die.

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Character Interview with Auren from the Shadow Stalker Series

By Renee Scattergood

Hello Auren, thank you for taking the time to chat with us today!

I'm happy to be here and looking forward to answering your questions.

Why don't you start by telling us a little about the world you reside in?

The Serpent Isles are an island chain in the far north of my world. There are other land masses, mostly islands, around the world, but we are far from any of them. We are the most advanced culture on our world as well. Some of the other islands have primitive cultures, but the other islands are not very hospitable places to live. The wildlife is much too dangerous to coexist with on some, and the climates are too harsh on others. We are not sure why our culture seemed to thrive and advance, while others that remain are so primitive, but there are legends that suggest shadow stalkers played a role in that, if you believe in such things.

What is it like to be a kid growing up among the Serpent Isles?

Boring…at least on Appolia. I think I live in the most boring town on the coldest island in the Serpent Isles. We only get about a month of warm weather, and it never gets warm enough to swim here. There’s lots of skiing and snow related activities, but I’ve never been into that sort of thing. I don’t really like the cold. I like rock climbing, rappelling, and caving, though. Kado takes me camping on a different island every summer, and we do all kinds of stuff like that. On Appolia, I spend most of my time studying and trying not to get myself into too much trouble. Kado keeps me busy studying a lot of different things outside of school as well, so I don’t have much time for my friends.

You have a very protective foster-father. Do you ever get the urge to rip your hair out, when it comes to dealing with him?

Well, no. I like my hair right where it is. I might consider ripping his out on occasion, though. Wait, never mind…that would not end well. We do butt heads a lot, though, and quite often I let my friend, Jade, talk me into breaking the rules. It’s great fun, until I get caught, which with Kado doesn’t take very long. Sometimes I swear he can read my mind.

In Episode 1 you have two very unique friends. Can you tell us about them and how you met each?

I met Jade Tobin and Deakan Nix on my first day of school when I was six years old. We connected right away and have been inseparable since. Sometimes I think with the way the two of them bicker, they might like each other, but I’ll never tell them that. It might take a cataclysmic event to get them to admit they have feelings for each other.

Jade is generally quiet and reserved, but at the same time very mischievous. She is someone you can trust with your innermost secrets, and she is a lot of fun to be around. She has very laid back parents, except that they tend to shelter her from the harsh realities of the world. She tends to be too trusting, and she can’t understand cruel people. Violence terrifies her.

Deakan is the exact opposite. You can always count on him to be running his mouth, except when he’s around his father. He’s very obedient and well-behaved around his dad. It’s like he has two different personalities, but I’d bet any amount of money that the person he is away from his dad is the real Deakan. He always seems to have something to prove and has a tendency to really dislike authority figures.

Your foster-father spent many years training you. Do you feel glad after your experiences about having this training?

I would say I feel relieved more than glad. I don’t know what I would have done without the training to fall back on when my friends and I were in trouble. But the training itself has always been very difficult and limiting to my social life. So it’s really been a blessing and a curse.

Well, that's all I have for you today. Thank you for taking the time to speak with us!

Thanks for having me. It's been fun!
Long Description:

Auren escapes the Dark Isle to find things are worse on Appolia than she imagined. Very few have survived the invasion of the Galvadi Empire, and even her best friend, Jade, has gone missing.

While attempting a rescue, Auren is captured and faces abuse and torture at the hands of her enemies. She knows as long as she can hide her true identity, she might succeed in helping the Coalition, but one of the Galvadi knows she is the delohi-saqu. For his silence, she is forced to pay the ultimate price.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

The Promises of Dragons. A very short story.

 As I am on holiday, I have posted this short story rather than another reason not to vote UKIP.

The Promises of Dragons

It suddenly appeared one day and took a cow from the field.

A week later. dark wings blotted out the summer sun. The farmer looked up and saw an enormous shape gliding overhead. A dragon! He watched, cowering behind a large tree.

The dragon swooped down and carried off another cow. As soon as the creature disappeared he ran as fast as he could to the village.

‘You are certain you saw a dragon? Most experts think they are extinct,’ asked the leader of the council.

 ‘It was a dragon. I can’t be mistaken about that!’

Another councilor asked, ‘It was in the sky, against the sun. Could it have been a cloud?’

 ‘And clouds swoop down and steal cattle?’

Two days later a group of volunteers set off to track down the dragon.

As they neared the lair the leader asked for a volunteer to go into the cave to look. One man stepped forward.

In the cave he stumbled over a smooth, rounded object. He lifted his torch and saw an egg! Not just one egg, but ten. He ran out of the cave and reported what he had seen.

They went in and smashed the eggs.

When Gulineran, returned to her cave and found her smashed eggs her roar of anguish made the mountains themselves tremble. She determined to take her revenge. She swept down and breathed flame onto the hapless village.

The cottages burned like tinder. Many lost their lives. Those who survived crowded into the village hall. They decided to send for help to the nearby wizards.

One wizard came, a young man by the name of Oni. Oni talked to the council, and promised to do something about the dragon. The council accepted his offer.

Oni walked out of the village and into the mountains. He stood near the cave and called. Within seconds the dragon rushed out ready for battle. She breathed flame.

The flames washed over Oni. Gulineran expected to see a dead wizard when her fire died away, but, Oni was left standing and very much alive. She looked into his eyes.

‘Ah,’ Oni breathed, ‘I’ve not seen such beauty in two hundred years.’

‘How can a human talk of hundreds of years?’ asked Gulineran. ‘Your lives aren’t that long.’

‘No, but dragons live centuries,’ replied Oni. ‘You are the first female dragon I’ve seen in more than a hundred.’

His skin began to change then, and he grew and rippled until a handsome male red dragon stood before her.

‘Will you accept me as your mate?’ Oni asked.

Gulineran accepted Oni’s offer. He changed back to human form and returned to the village. There he told the villagers that he had got the dragon to agree not to attack the village nor take their cattle. He then returned to Gulineran.

He told her of his promise to the villagers.

‘Oh, Oni.’ answered Gulineran. ‘They don’t know not to trust the promises of dragons.'

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Why NOT to vote UKIP Part 1

 I am afraid I am going to have to do this over several blogs, taking one topic from the UKIP manifesto at a time.

Reasons NOT to vote UKIP.

I don’t suppose that many people realise that to be counted as an immigrant a person only has to live in the country for a year. If they leave after that year, they are still counted as an immigrant for that year. Now this includes people who come to Britain for a 1year work contract as well as students who are only here for their education and go back as soon as they have qualified. No one tells us of this. Not unless you go on the website of the Office for National Statistics, and how many of us do? (OK, I did, but it was the first time ever!)

I am afraid that UKIP’s thoughts on immigration will generate racism and

Nigel Farage has recently said that UKIP will repeal the Racial Discrimination Act, at least as far as employment goes, as I understand it. Now Mr Farage has said that this act is no longer needed because the concept of ‘race’ does not exist in Britain any more. Where have you been, Mr Farage? Only yesterday I heard someone saying on the radio that if they sent in a form with an apparently British name, and an identical one with an apparently ‘Asian’ or ‘black’ name, with everything else the same. Only the ‘British’ would get an interview.

UKIP is saying that there should be no free movement of labour in the EU, and cites the large numbers of potential Eastern Europeans that are now free to come to Britain, but we don’t worry about the French, Italians, Germans, yes and Irish who are free to come, it seems to be just the ‘new’ EU countries they are concerned about.

Now contrary to received wisdom, the majority of immigrants come here to work and not receive our benefits. (Actually, people argue against themselves here. They say that all these immigrants come here and doss around on benefits all day, then they complain they are taking jobs from British workers. Taking ‘our’ jobs has been an argument used in the 50s and 60s too.) They also, because they are generally young, use the NHS far less and are statistically less likely to claim unemployment benefit. It appears that only 5% of immigrants will claim benefits, while over 40% of British-born will do so.

Everyone is saying that the National Health Service is in crisis. There is certainly a problem there, but it will get worse if we cannot employ immigrants. We are not producing enough nurses and doctors in this country, I’m afraid. Why? I can’t answer that question I’m afraid, except to say that I would not want to be a doctor or nurse in this day and age of litigation!

This sounds as though I am all for immigration without controls, but that is not true. I do think that there should be some control. We are after all a small country, but we should not try to ban some people and yet let others in willy-nilly. Mr Farage’s ideas on a points system seems to me to have merit, but when he starts to only cite the Poles and Romanians, then that is dangerous and it is the fuelling of hate towards others that worries me.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

poem from The Wolf Pack

I need some time to do research into the topic I wanted to do for this blog and so I will post it next week. Sorry.

Puzzle for Carthinal to solve
During his Practical test

The spring wind blows cross mountains wide
Through land of horse where barbarians ride.

From icy mountains encased in snow
In winter do the cold winds blow.

The summer winds are soft and warm
They blow from desert and waving palm.

The autumn winds are rough and wild
They bring doom for man and child.

So turn me round and I will show
The proper way that you must go

But get it wrong and sorry be
For you must fight or you must flee.

Thursday, 5 March 2015

The Wolf Pack Chapter 18. Decisions.

Oh, Sorry, Sorry. Sorry! Should have posted the next episode of The Wolf Pack yesterday. I've had a very busy week though. Appointments every day and 2 on Tuesday! Anyway, here it is a day late.



‘You were late in last night!’ said Basalt, looking hard at Carthinal. ‘We thought you’d forgotten where the inn is. Asphodel wanted to send out a search party, but we convinced her that you’d probably got involved in the translation and forgotten the time.’
Carthinal yawned. He hated people who woke up bright and cheerful.
‘Yes, we finished a bit late, and then I took Yssa to dinner—as a thanks for her help, you know.’
‘Hmm!’ was all the dwarf said.
‘What’s that supposed to mean?’ demanded Carthinal, looking at Basalt rather sharply.
‘Nothing at all,’ replied the dwarf.
Carthinal continued to get dressed and then told Basalt and Fero that he would read the translation to them at breakfast when Asphodel could hear it too.
When they got down to the common room, Asphodel was visibly pleased to see Carthinal. He explained that he had taken Yssa out to dinner as a thank you, and that was why he did not eat with them the previous evening. Asphodel remained silent as she received the information, but he thought he saw a strange expression, pass fleetingly over her face. It was so quickly gone that he thought he must have imagined it. He went on to tell of the events of the previous day in the Palace and took the paper out of his pocket. As he did so, the paper with the poem on it fell to the floor.
Fero picked it up. ‘Is this important, Carthinal?’ he asked, passing the paper to the mage.
Carthinal looked puzzled for a moment, then he said, ‘Oh! I didn’t realise I’d picked that up. It’s only a poem that was being used as a bookmark. I must have put it in my pocket without realising it.’
Asphodel took it off Fero and read it. ‘It’s not even good poetry,’ she observed, handing it back to Carthinal, who decided he had better read it out so that the other two would know what they were talking about, even if it was not relevant.
All agreed that it was probably not important, as they could not see what wolves had to do with it. However, Basalt counselled against throwing it away. ‘Just in case,’ he said, but did not explain “just in case” what.
They all became excited when Carthinal revealed just who had written the words in the hidden room, and Asphodel called Mabrella over to ask if she had any paper, a pen and some ink. She explained to the others that she thought that they should write down all they had discovered so far.
When the pen and paper arrived, she began by writing, “Sword in tomb. Evidence: poem and diary.”
Eventually, they had ascertained that the tomb, and hence the Sword, was over some mountains, and by a lake in a forest in which there lives or lived a nymph. The tomb was guarded by something, but they could not determine what. They decided that this was probably the prophesied time for finding the Sword. Sillaran had stated that the room would remain sealed and hidden until it the world was again in danger, and the powers of the Sword required once more; not to mention the other happenings from the other prophecy that had happened to them already.
The problem was which mountains. They discussed this at length, coming to no conclusions. None of them had any knowledge of the lands over either of the mountain ranges. Asphodel was the only one who had been east of the Mountains of Doom, since she had been born there, in the elven capital city of Quantissarillishon. She then told them that she had hardly been out of the city and knew little of the surrounding country beyond the immediate area around the city and could not in all honesty say whether there was a valley such as Sillaran described.
Carthinal turned to the others and said, ‘I’m sure we can find the answer to this last question. If this is truly the prophesied time, then the answer will be there if we can only find it. I’m inclined to tell the Duke that I’m willing to go on this quest for him. I’ve become very interested in all this while doing the research; much more that I thought I would. I don’t want to think that we’ve done all this for someone else to go out and find this fabled Sword. If you’re with me on this, I will be delighted, but if you don’t want to agree, then I don’t blame you either.’
‘I was going on the road anyway, Carthinal,’ Asphodel replied. ‘I’ll go with you.’
‘Me too.’ This was from Basalt. ‘You need someone with a bit of common sense to see you don’t do anything foolish, also you need someone who can use a decent weapon. What about you Fero?’
‘Try to stop me, dwarf,’ was Fero’s reply. ‘You’re not going off to have fun without me. Anyway, you need a drinking companion, don’t you?’
‘So all we need to do is to find out whether to go east or west,’ said Carthinal. ‘I think we can dismiss the Roof of the World. No one has crossed that range ever, or so I’ve been told. So I’ll go to the Duke and tell him we’ll take his job and I’ll take a look at some of the maps he has there. Maybe that will help. See if I can see a lake in a forest over either range.’
He paused for a moment then continued, ‘If we’re going on the road, we’ll need some supplies, so you and Fero could take care of that, Bas. Asphodel, much as I respect your clerical dress, does your Church permit the wearing of armour? If it does, then I suggest you get some, and you need to get a weapon too.’
‘The Church allows armour, but not edged weapons, as Sylissa is the goddess of Life and Healing. It is too easy to extinguish life with a sword. Blunt weapons can stop and not kill,’ she replied. ‘I'll see to it. If we’re going to go on a long journey, as I suspect this will be, may I suggest that we buy a horse to carry our things? It’ll save our energy and mean we can make quicker progress.’
‘Good idea,’ replied Fero. ‘Bas and I will see to it.’
They all went their separate ways to complete their allotted tasks. Firstly, Carthinal went to tell the Duke they would go and try to find the Sword for him, and then he looked at the maps the Duke provided. There were no lakes marked over the Mountains of Doom, and the only ones marked over the Western Mountains were not in woodland, so he was little the wiser as he approached the Mage Tower. He took Mabryl’s staff, to the Tower to see if he could have some light thrown on its possible magical effects. He had forgotten all about it in the past few days of tests and research. He entered the tower, and saw Yssa crossing the Great Hall. He called to her and she came over. He told her about the staff and how he would like to know more about it and its powers.
‘You say it was Mabryl’s staff and he left it to you?’
Carthinal nodded.
‘Well, I already know it’s magic,’ she continued, ‘so I don’t need to check that. I daren’t touch it, as many magic staves will react badly if anyone but their rightful owner tries to touch them—a precaution that is wise. However, Mabryl gave this to you on his deathbed, so you are obviously all right at least to pick it up.’
She paused for a moment to think. ‘Hmm!’ she went on. ‘Have you felt anything when you pick it up?’
Carthinal remembered the slight tingling he felt as he carried the staff after Mabryl had told him he must have it, and the warm feeling that came after it and he told her of these sensations.
‘Fine, you should be able to use it then. It seems to have accepted the change of ownership ’ Yssa replied.
‘You speak as though it is alive!’ Carthinal was surprised.
‘Well, it is and it isn’t. It can detect who should and who should not be using it and it will only obey the commands of that one person. Beyond that, it is just a bit of wood,’ she explained.
‘I see,’ said Carthinal, who did not really, ‘but how do I know what it can do?’
‘Look carefully at the carvings on the side,’ she told him.
Suddenly, he thought that he could see letters and then words in intricate carving among the other decoration. They were so ornate that it was no wonder that he had overlooked them before. Yssa, however, explained. The words would not be able to be read, firstly by anyone with no right to do so. That is anyone who was not the rightful owner of the staff. Secondly, she explained that he had been unable to read them before, as he was only an apprentice and not a full mage, although Mabryl had bequeathed the staff to him.
‘I expect that Mabryl had the staff in his hand when he told you that you were to have it,’ she said. ‘He must have managed to touch you with it too so that it would know you.’
Carthinal thought back to the moments when Mabryl told him to leave him as he was dying. The memory was still very painful; after all it was only a very short while ago. Yes, he remembered that Mabryl’s hand was on the staff, but that had not struck him as unusual as it had rarely been far from the man’s side. He also thought he remembered a very, light brush by the staff that he had put down as an accident. It seems now that it was probably deliberate. He pushed the pain away. Now was not the time to indulge in mourning.
They then went on to discuss what the words that Carthinal could see meant. Yssa told him that they would most probably be the command words for the various powers of the staff. She thought that the first one that Carthinal could read was to give him magical protection against weapons. Yssa explained that it made a thickened layer of air around the mage that made penetration by anything extremely difficult. It was a spell in the domain of Matter, she said, which affected physical things around. The second one would release some magical bolts of energy. (From the domain of Energy.) All magic affected a variety of aspects of the world. As well as the physical world and energy, there were spells that affected the Mind of living creatures, spells affecting Time and spells of the Spirit.
Yssa went on to explain that the staff was very old, having been passed down from master to apprentice over many generations. It was thus a rechargeable staff or it would have long since lost its powers. It had a large quartz crystal on the top. Carthinal knew little of crystals, it not being a part of the initial training of mages, so Yssa explained that quartz was a very powerful crystal and that was what recharged it, drawing in the mana from all around the world. (Crystallography was one of many subjects that mages could study if they desired to take up magical research after they had passed their tests.)
After Yssa had explained about the staff to him, he turned to her and said, ‘We’ve decided to take up Duke Rollo’s quest and go in search of the Sword. There are only four of us, and the poem that Asphodel found seems to indicate six or eight people should go. I’d be pleased if you’d accompany us. We plan to leave as soon as possible. Tomorrow if we can manage to be ready.’
Yssa was tempted. To go adventuring; to go with Carthinal; to find a long lost legendary sword. She was, despite herself, coming to have feelings about this handsome and charismatic half-elf, and she would love to spend more time in his company.
However, she replied, ‘Much as I’m tempted, I have my work here. There are all those books in the Palace that have to be translated and Mabryl's book to study. I couldn’t bear someone else to get their grubby paws on them and find out their secrets first. Thank you for asking me, Carthinal, but I must say no.’

When Carthinal got back to the inn, he found the others there already. Asphodel was dressed in studded leather armour, and had a tabard in white with a scarlet triskel worked into the cloth covering it. Leather trousers protected her legs. She looked very different now she was no longer wearing her clerical robes. She produced a sling saying that the weapons master she consulted suggested that this was the best weapon for her to learn on since she could not get the practice on another in time to be sufficiently proficient by the time they set off. She could practice using the sling while travelling. He had also made his views known about temples that allowed their curates to go on the road without sufficient weapons training.
Basalt and Fero had had a successful morning too. They had purchased dried food and more water skins. Basalt had replenished his dwindling supply of dwarf spirits and they had also acquired a couple of skins of good wine as well as several skins of ale and cider. Basalt pointed out that they had to ensure that they would be able to drink even if they could not find water. Also, the alcohol would help to purify water if they could not boil it for any reason. It was also good to cook in. He had eaten dried rabbit meat cooked in cider with mushrooms and herbs and it was delicious, he told them.
‘All right, you don’t have to make excuses for your purchases of alcohol to me,’ laughed Carthinal. ‘I expect I’ll drink my fair share. What about a horse to carry all these supplies? Did you have success there?’
‘We were certainly lucky, Carthinal,’ Fero told him. ‘We went to a livery to try to buy a horse. As we were looking them over, rather inexpertly I hasten to add, a young couple came in. They were Horselords from over the Western Mountains. The ones who are staying here as it happens. The stableman was giving us a price for the animal, and they overheard. They came over and told him that although the animal was a good one, she was not worth what he was asking. They talked to us, or rather the girl did (the man seemed not to speak Grosmerian so well) and persuaded us not to buy that mare, but to look theirs over. They were reluctantly having to sell her in order to feed themselves.’
‘Where is the horse now?’ asked Carthinal.
‘We’ve brought her to the stables here,’ Bas replied. ‘But, Carthinal, I’m rather concerned about this horse business. I had no experience of dealing with the mine ponies when I was mining, and Fero tells me that he knows nothing about them. This is a beautiful horse of the Horselords. I’m worried that we won’t be able to take care of her as she should be.’
‘The elves don’t use horses either,’ said Asphodel. ‘I know nothing about your background, Carthinal, but I would be very surprised if it had included horses.’
Carthinal shrugged and shook his head.
‘We'll have to learn quickly then.’
‘Carthinal, I have had an idea.’ Basalt said suddenly. ‘Those two Horselords have little or no money left, so they want to find some kind of employment. I don’t suppose they would really enjoy working at anything they would be likely to get in Hambara, so why don’t we ask them if they’d like to join with us in the capacity of grooms?’
‘Do you think they would?’ asked Asphodel. ‘They are known for being very proud. The man also looks very fierce. I saw him yesterday. I was a little bit afraid of him to be honest.’
The discussion proceeded for a few minutes until the entire group agreed that there was sense in the suggestion.
‘Anyway,’ Carthinal pointed out, ‘The poem that Asphodel found suggested six, or maybe eight, should go on this quest, and we are only four. If they come that will make six. Besides, as we all know, six is a sacred number, and so that would perhaps give us some luck.’
The planet of Vimar took three hundred and sixty days to travel around the sun, and that was divided into twelve months of thirty days, which were in turn divided into five “weeks” of six days. This led to the idea of six being an important number, and it also included all multiples of six, especially thirty six, (six squared) and numbers with all sixes, such as sixty six, six hundred and sixty six and so on.
They agreed to ask the couple when they returned, having ascertained from Keloriff that they were not in yet. While they were waiting, they ordered some food as it was well past the usual time for the mid-day meal.
While they were eating, the door opened and the Horselords came in, hand in hand. The man was not exceptionally tall, about five feet ten and the girl was tiny, barely five feet tall. They were both dressed in leather, there being little difference between the dress of either of them. Both were wearing brown leather trousers tucked into brown leather boots. They had leather tunics over coarsely woven shirts. The girl had long brown hair tied in two plaits and clear hazel eyes, ringed with long lashes. Her eyes were her best feature, and beyond that she was not particularly pretty, with a small upturned nose and a wide mouth. She was adorned with necklaces of beads and feathers, and had feathers hanging from the rings in her ears. The man, however, was extremely imposing. He had a proud bearing, and was very handsome. He had very dark hair, done in the fashion of the tribes, long and braided with beads and feathers, but the thing that made him seem so fearsome was the tattoo on his face. It went up his straight nose and over his brows and seemed to be in the shape of a bird with outstretched wings. His leather clothing was covered with intricate designs. His eyes were a light brown colour.
The girl caught Basalt’s eye and she smiled in recognition. Her smile transformed her face, and Bas thought that here was the face of someone who was by nature happy and cheerful. Carthinal looked over to them, and stood, beckoning them over. Fero reached out and pulled two more chairs to their table so that the pair could sit down.
Once they had sat, Carthinal made the suggestion to them. ‘We are none of us experienced in the tending of horses, and yet we feel the need to have one on our journey. We are going on a quest for Duke Rollo, and may be gone for some time. Basalt here suggested that we asked if you two would accompany us to tend the horse. We cannot pay much, but would be willing to share in any treasure we may find. The Duke will pay our expenses here in Hambara, so your bill at the inn will be taken care of if you join us. I’ll need an answer fairly soon as we wish to leave first thing tomorrow morning if possible.’
The man replied in halting Grosmerian, ‘First we talk. Private. We go to room. Return half-hour.’
With that, the pair rose and went up the stairs to their room leaving the other four looking after them.
Just over half an hour later, true to their word, the Horselords reappeared in the common room.
The girl turned to Carthinal and said, in much better Grosmerian than her husband, ‘We have thought about your offer. We would know what this quest is before we can agree.’
‘That’s fair enough, Carthinal,’ said Basalt. ‘Would you go somewhere without knowing some details?’
Carthinal replied to the couple. ‘I can tell you that we go east to try to find a long lost artefact. The details I cannot reveal unless I know you are with us. It will probably be dangerous though, that I can tell you.’
‘Danger never disturb Horselords,’ was the proud reply from the man. ‘We accept offer and come on journey.’
He stood, and, crossing his hands on his breast, bowed to each of them in turn.
‘I, Davrael,’ he said, ‘This, my wife, Kimi.’
Kimi then also rose and bowed to them in turn as Davrael had done. The others rose and bowed to the two Horselords, introducing themselves. Once the introductions were over, Carthinal gave Davrael and Kimi a brief run-down on the quest and read them the poems and diary extract they had found. Davrael was of the opinion that they were right in deciding to go over the Mountains of Doom since he had no knowledge of lakes in woodland on the plains of his homeland. Indeed, although there were lakes aplenty on the plains, the woods were small and far apart. Being plains, there was little that could be reliably termed a valley anywhere that he knew about.
They spent the rest of the afternoon talking and getting to know one another a little. Davrael and Kimi seemed reluctant to open up about their homes, but the Horselords were noted for their reticence, so the others ignored this. However, they felt that the pair would fit in and were happy with the decision to ask them to join.
The last afternoon in Hambara drew to a close. A few short sixdays ago none of the group knew of each other’s existence, and now, here they were planning an expedition where they may have to entrust their very lives to each other.
‘Life is very strange,’ thought Asphodel. ‘I came here to the temple to become a healer, and now I’m going chasing after a magical sword in the company of a half-elf, a dwarf, a foreigner from beyond the Great Desert and two barbarian Horselords. Who would have thought it?’
The afternoon darkened, and evening approached. The group decided to rise early and leave at the first hour. So they all retired to their rooms to make whatever preparations they needed.