Water Road Wednesday – Final Excerpt from The Bay of Sins

In this final excerpt from The Bay of Sins, Hirrek scours the Neldathi city of Albandala for information about the murder of a thek. He needs to ask questions some people don’t want to hear. They’re happy to vent their displeasure toward him:

The continued celebration made the enclave louder than the others he had visited. It was nearly impossible for him to hear what people around him were saying as he passed by. The crowd was thick enough that just moving through it without running into people was a challenge. Without knowing it, his avoidance maneuvers eventually took him to the outskirts of the enclave, near the edge of the city itself. He breathed a bit more easily there, enjoying the open space. The din of the crowd rumbled in the background.

That was how they took him by surprise. The first blow knocked him to the ground, his face landing hard on dirty packed snow. He managed to roll over and see three people standing over him. All had the green and white Elein stripes in their braids.

“Keeps poking around,” one of them said. He was younger than Hirrek and not as big. “Like he’s got a right to know something.”

“You’d think he’d learned by now that nobody wants to talk with him,” said another. He was older and standing back from the other two a bit.

“People can talk to whomever they want,” Hirrek said, getting ready to stand up.

The third one, about Hirrek’s age and even bigger than he was, kicked him in the side. “How’s that for talking?”

The first one laughed. The older one didn’t. Hirrek made a note of that as he crumpled to the snow and tried to catch his breath.

“If you have nothing to say, that’s fine,” Hirrek said after a few moments, managing to make it to his hands and knees. “But you have no right to keep me from talking to others.”

“Who gave you the right to start asking?” asked the second man. The third one kicked Hirrek again, sending him back to the ground, face first.

Hirrek spat dirty snow from his mouth and did everything possible to hide the pain he’d endured so far. “The Maker gave me that right, as she did for all of you.” He didn’t expect that to work, but wanted to see what they said at the mention of the Maker of Worlds.

“A blasphemer as well,” said the first man.

“One goes along with the other,” said the third.

“You see?” said the older man. He looked to be the leader of this little group. “This is what you get when you give yourself over to the blasphemy of one god. This one’s from Clan Dost, not that you’d know it to look at him. He’s free to do whatever he wants, but what right does he have to tell us?”

“Yeah!” the other two said.

“He thinks just because his father pretends he’s jeyn now he can go anywhere he likes.”

“My father doesn’t think he’s jeyn, and doesn’t pretend to be,” Hirrek said, slowly getting back to his hands and knees.

“What does he think he is, then?” asked the second man.

“He thinks he’s doing his best for his people,” Hirrek said, speaking slowly and trying to get a good feeling for where his attackers were. The two younger ones were on either side of him now, while the older man stood a few feet in front of him. They weren’t thinking this through very well. “The best for the Neldathi people. All of them.”

“He’s not got the right,” the third man said, before he tried to kick Hirrek one more time.

This time he was ready. Hirrek lunged forward just as the kick came. The man’s foot glanced harmlessly off his lower leg while Hirrek sprang on the older man. He was taken completely by surprise and was driven to the ground by Hirrek’s charge. Hirrek wasted little time exploiting his advantage, punching him twice in the face and knocking him out.

He stood and readied himself for the others, but neither had come to the aid of their master. They stood with fists raised, poised on the balls of their feet, but neither moved.

“I don’t have any business with you,” Hirrek said, eyes flitting back and forth between the two men. “But him, I need to talk to.” He kicked at the foot of their master. “That means either you can leave or I can make you leave, since I don’t need either one of you to make it through the night. Understand?”

It was an empty threat. He was outnumbered and wasn’t carrying a weapon. He didn’t want to be known as walking through the city interrogating people with a knife in his hand, so he’d intentionally gone out without anything threatening in his possession. He’d give anything to have one secreted away in one of his furs. He just hoped that the others thought he was armed.

They looked at each other, then dropped their fists and took a few steps back.

“Don’t want to have nothing to do with you,” the first one said. “Right?”

“Right,” said the big one.

They turned and walked off together, hurrying but not running back to the crowd, the noise, and the fire.

Hirrek grabbed the other man, still thoroughly unconscious, under each arm and began to drag him through the snow toward the center of the city.

The Bay of Sins arrives March 22 – pre order now for the low launch price of 99 cents! Get The Water Road and The Endless Hills while you’re at it!

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Water Road Wednesday – Second Excerpt from The Bay of Sins

In this excerpt from The Bay of Sins, Rurek arrives in Modrozon Crossing looking for someone. Not a friend, but a familiar face from readers of The Endless Hills – the thief turned soldier Martoh. In between, these two have developed a little bit of bad blood.

 Martoh sits down:

“Well, well, well,” he said, looking very satisfied with himself. “I believe the words were, ‘I’ll never come anywhere near this place again, you filthy criminal.’ Was that about right, Rurek?” While he spoke, he fiddled with the bracelet on his wrist.

Rurek cleared his throat. “Nice to see you too, Martoh. Believe me, when I said that I meant it. If circumstances were any different I wouldn’t be here.”

“Then I am truly touched that, in your hour of need, you found your way back here.” He signaled to someone, and a drink, some kind of deep-green alcohol, arrived within moments. “Have you had the ordem? It is a local specialty, requires a special kind of grain that grows wild around here. Very strong, but a wonderfully complex flavor, if you can handle it.” He took a long, slow sip and set the glass down on the table. “The girl is fine, by the way. I thought you might like to know.”

“I don’t care.” That was a lie. There wasn’t a night he didn’t think about the little girl and what her life was like in Wellston. He wasn’t about to let Martoh know that, however.

Martoh shrugged. “So be it. What, then, brings you so low that you would go back on your word and return to Modrozon Crossing, to this pub, and seek me out? I hope you did not gamble away all that money. It was so hard-earned.”

“After a fashion,” Rurek said, stifling a chuckle. “I got the money I needed to do what I needed to do. Problem is, now I’m not sure what to do with what I’ve got.”

“How cryptic. If you will not tell me what the problem is, I cannot help you.”

“Except I don’t really trust you.”

“You must trust me a little, Rurek, or you would have gone somewhere else. Did I cheat you? Did I tell you I would pay and then not pay, or pay less than we agreed?”

“No.” Rurek had to admit that.

“Did I lie to you about the nature of the work? And I mean lie, Rurek, really tell you something that was not true?”

“You didn’t tell me—”

Martoh raised a hand. “I told you what you needed to know to complete the task. Entirely accurate information. That you did not ask more questions, better questions, before taking my money is not my fault. You needed the money badly enough to keep you from asking those questions.”

“You’re being overly technical.”

“Overly technical is what put me in prison. Why should I not use it to my advantage now?”

Rurek knew Martoh had been in prison before the war and that he didn’t think he belonged there, but he didn’t know details. He didn’t want to know. “If that’s how you want to live your life.”

“It is.” Martoh sat back, looked out the window, and smiled. “Now that our reunion is out of the way, what is it that you think I might do for you?”

The Bay of Sins arrives March 22 – pre order now for the low launch price of 99 cents!. Get The Water Road and The Endless Hills while you’re at it!

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Water Road Wednesday – First Excerpt from The Bay of Sins

The first excerpt from The Bay of Sins. In this scene, Mida, the healer in Innisport who Antrey put in charge of the city, has been arrested and charged with treason and collaboration with the Neldathi. Using a code delivered via a wadded up piece of paper thrown over a wall, she reached out to her neighbor in prison:

After supper, when she knew she’d be left alone for the night, Mida moved the desk chair next to the wall she shared with C4 and waited. She wasn’t sure if her neighbor would try to make contact first, but Mida thought it wise to wait. Such communication was against the rules, and she wanted the defense, if only in her head, that she didn’t break them first. She was on the verge of giving up and getting into bed when she heard it.

Six taps, faint, like a small metal pick scratching on rock. The sound repeated itself over and over.

The night before, Mida had pried a piece of metal out from under the desk. It was part of a brace that held the desk up, but it was already lose when she found it, and the desk seemed perfectly sturdy without it. She fetched the metal from its hiding place near the toilet and tapped six times in response, then waited.

The code came, slowly and deliberately. Mida wasn’t certain if the other person was being slow for her benefit or not, but she appreciated it regardless. You are new?

Yes, Mida tapped back, quietly sounding out each letter. Two days ago. You?

Long time, came the answer, a little quicker this time. What for?

I don’t know. It was only partially untrue. She was certain it had something to do with Phichan’s need to punish those who worked with the Neldathi during the occupation, but she had no idea what the specific charges were yet. You?

War.

War is over. Mida didn’t understand.

Not for me. Name?

Mida chuckled. They were prisoners, and, naturally, went straight to talking about why they were in prison. Small details like names were secondary. Mida Innis, Healer, she tapped back. You?

Bist, her neighbor tapped, of Clan Kohar.

The Bay of Sins arrives March 22. Get The Water Road and The Endless Hills now!

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Water Road Wednesday: First Excerpt from The Bay of Sins

The Water Road Trilogy wraps up later this year with The Bay of Sins. The bay is where the Water Road empties into the sea and is home to the island city of Tolenor, home of the Triumvirate. In ancient times it was where pilgrims would come to wash away their sins. It’s always been a place of reckoning.

 In this scene, something happens in the new Neldathi city of Albandala that will require some reckoning.

It was overcast the next day, snow spitting from the slate grey sky. Weft made his rounds in the morning, speaking with members of various clans, chatting about nothing important. He was feeling things out, trying to get information without anyone knowing they were giving it to him. He usually had better luck, but today people seemed tight lipped. Something was in the air, something Weft couldn’t quite put his finger on.

The day began to achieve some focus when he saw an old Neldathi man emerge from the meeting hall in the center of the city. The long, low log building was where the clans met to discuss vital issues. It wasn’t clear what this meeting had been about or how many people had been involved, but the old man’s bearing and entourage suggested that he was important. Weft suspected he was one of the chiefs, a thek, but he couldn’t tell from which clan. He had no painted lines in the long black and grey braid that hung down his back.

Even if he couldn’t tell which clan the thek belonged to, Weft could make a guess as to which faction could claim him. It wasn’t a hard and fast rule, but generally an unpainted braid identified one as a unificationist. If a Neldathi still wore clan colors, most likely he was an independent. This was most likely one of Antrey Ranbren’s men, come to Albandala on a mission.

Weft watched as the man shuffled through the snow. There were four younger men with him, all of them also wearing black braids. Warriors, no doubt, although none of them had weapons to hand. One had a rifle slung across his back, another a short spear of some kind. The others no doubt had knives or swords on them, but Weft couldn’t see. Regardless, they were woefully unprepared for what came next.

The thek was greeting people as he shuffled. He must have been popular, at least among some portions of Neldathi society. People gave him what looked like warm hellos, meeting him with smiles and nods. The jumble of voices overtaxed Weft’s limited grip on the language. The numbers overwhelmed his guards, who looked reluctant to try and push back the well wishers anyway. Were they obeying the thek’s orders?

One Neldathi, smaller than the others and with black, blue, and red stripes in his braid, stepped forward with another group to greet the old man. Weft had a hard time keeping sight of him, with the press of tall bodies around him blocking the view. He worked his way through the crowd just in time to see the small Neldathi raise his right arm and charge at the thek. He yelled something, low and guttural and angry. Weft couldn’t begin to understand it, but he caught the gist. There was a pistol in his right hand.

It wasn’t as loud as he expected, but the shot rattled Weft’s bones all the same. The speed and violence of the maneuver took him by surprise. He knew something like this might happen, but had no idea when. In the blink of an eye there was a cloud of smoke surrounding the old chief as he fell, clutching his throat. The snow turned red underneath him.

The shooter held the useless pistol aloft and began to laugh, loudly, in a way that proved he was out of his mind. Before he could even try to run away another Neldathi, this one taller, wider, and altogether more in keeping with the stereotype of his people, tackled the shooter, driving him to the ground.

There was no need for Weft to see what happened next. His work was done. He needed to leave the city as quickly as he could.

Get caught up with the trilogy by picking up The Water Road and The Endless Hills now.

Water Road Wednesday: Second Excerpt from The Endless Hills

The second excerpt from The Endless Hills brings us back to Antrey, who has now come north from the Neldathi mountains to come face to face with the war. In this excerpt she’s touring the bombed out shell of Innisport, one of the Truimvirate’s largest cities. It’s been an eye-opening experience.

There was a dull murmur that rose from the crowd. Not angry, but curious and agitated. It lacked energy and didn’t strike Antrey as threatening, although she noticed Effar and the other guards stiffen in alertness. The carriage came to a halt when the driver could no longer pick his way through the mass of people.

“You there! Clear the way!” Kajtan yelled to a group of Neldathi warriors who had congregated in front of a ruined building. They leapt into the street, pushing and shoving people out of the way. No one put up any real resistance, but the warriors used force all the same. When one woman stumbled and fell onto the street, a warrior raised his musket as if to smash her face with the butt of the gun.

“Don’t touch her!” Antrey yelled, jumping up. The warrior stopped, musket raised, and looked at her, dumbfounded.

“Jeyn, this is not wise,” Kajtan said under his breath. “Please, sit. You are far too exposed.”

“These people belong to this city,” she said in Altrerian, ignoring Kajtan and raising her voice. “They have a right not to be brutalized.”

“Aren’t you here to kill the rest of us?” someone, a woman, shouted from the crowd.

Antrey turned and saw an older woman with light green skin standing on a stoop outside a building. Her clothes were ragged and smeared with blood, although she didn’t appear to be injured. She stood straight and as tall as she could. “Why would you think that?”

“You’re the one who started all this,” the woman said. “The one they call jeyn.”

“I am Jeyn Antrey Ranbren, yes.”

“Then why ask if we think you might be here to kill the rest of us? Look around. See what your barbarians have done. Admire their handiwork.” The crowd buzzed, heads nodding in agreement. The mood caused two of the warriors to charge up and grab the woman by the arms.

“Stop that!” Antrey said in Neldathi. “She is not a threat.” They released her and walked slowly back to the street.

“You know my name,” Antrey said, switching back to Altrerian, “may I have the honor of knowing yours?”

“Mida Innis of the Guild of Healers. I’ve lived in this city all my life. It breaks my heart to see what your kind have done to it.”

“This is a war, Mida. Did you know that for a century your people had sown discord between the Neldathi clans, causing them to fight and kill each other in the name of your security? You are in no position to judge.”

“How can you say that? They say you only discovered this because you found a secret book locked in a Triumvirate vault. If that’s true, how does it convict me? The Sentinels and the Grand Council might have known, but not the common people, not these people. Why punish us?”

Antrey knew that Mida had a few details wrong, but on the whole she had a point. This wasn’t the time for a fight. “Are you hurt?”

“No.”

“What about the blood?” Antrey asked, pointing to the stains.

“That’s from my patients.”

“Are they close?”

“Of course.” She jerked her head toward the building behind her. “Why do you care?”

“I came here to see the progress of the war for myself, firsthand. That means seeing the damage done, which deeply saddens me. That also means seeing those that have been injured. Can I meet them?”

Mida stood, frozen, for a moment. “I don’t want all of them in here,” she said, pointing to Antrey’s guards.

Antrey pushed Effar aside and stepped down from the carriage. “Of course.”

“Don’t do this, Jeyn,” Kajtan said, following her out to the street.

“I have to,” she said. “Keep things orderly out here. I won’t be long.” She walked toward Mina. The buzz of the crowd was gone, replaced by a still, uneasy calm.

“Lead the way,” Antrey said to Mina.

The building was red brick that had been rubbed smooth over the years. It was four stories tall, but at least the upper floor appeared too damaged to be useful. Mida opened the front door and Antrey followed her inside.

Remember, The Water Road is now available at Amazon as well as in the real world at Empire Books & News. The Endless Hills will be released on August 31!

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Water Road Wednesday: First Excerpt from The Endless Hills

For this initial dip into The Endless Hills, book two of The Water Road trilogy, I wanted to explore one of that book’s new characters a bit. Martoh is a crook, but he’s in the kind of prison he’s never been in before, the kind that’s landed him in the infirmary. Now, with a war on, there’s a chance for him to get out:

 A few seconds later a gentleman stepped behind the curtain as someone else held it for him. He carried small wooden stool in one hand and a black leather case in the other. His black suit was neat and fresh, implying he had some kind of official position. The fine grey dust from the stones out of which the prison had been built had yet to infest his clothing. “Martoh Isukar?” He put the stool down beside the bed.

“Who are you?” Martoh had long ago learned to be wary of men in clean suits.

“May I sit?”

“Help yourself.”

The man sat down and began pawing through his case. “It really was quite a journey to reach here, you know.”

“Why is that? And who are you?”

“I’m sorry.” The man sat up straight and pulled an official looking piece of paper from his case. “My name is Anea. I am from the Ministry of War.”

Martoh rolled his eyes. “Whatever it is they told you I did, you’ve got the wrong guy.”

Anea looked at him with a frozen expression that said he knew Martoh was the right man. “You are serving a term of life in prison, is that not correct, Martoh? May I call you that?”

Martoh gave silent consent.

“Due to your sentence, you will die behind these walls. Why would I have to think anything else about you?”

“I’m not a killer.”

“It says something very different here.” Anea held up a clutch of papers and began shuffling through them, for Martoh’s benefit, most likely. “It says here that you stole some small trinket from a shop, were caught in the act, and pursued by the shop keeper. As he gave chase in the street he tripped, fell, and upon landing broke his neck. Died instantly, sad to say.”

“My bad luck.”

“His bad luck, I would say. But the court has already decided this. You are guilty of causing death while in the commission of another offense. Same as if you put a blade in the poor man’s back. However, the circumstances of your crime did, at least, save your life.”

“Put me in this cage, you mean,” Martoh said. He tried not to get agitated as any movement caused a bolt of pain to rush through his body.

“Martoh, you have never lived a life in harmony with His Majesty’s law, have you?” Anea let the question be answered by silence. “Although I suspect you never thought it would take you this far.”

“Obviously. It’s one thing to get locked in here for shooting a man or stabbing him. It’s entirely different when you’re here because of a mark’s poor foot skills.”

Anea didn’t take issue with him.

“If you are not here to pin something else on me, why are you here?”

Anea grinned, ever so slightly. “I am here to give you a way out.”

Martoh turned away from him. “I’m in no mood for games.”

“This is no game, I assure you. I am here on behalf of the Ministry of War, looking for recruits. You do know that there is a war on?”

“I’ve heard. I’ve also heard that the Neldathi might have a right to be angry.”

Anea cleared his throat in a way that suggested he would take issue with that position. “I am not here to discuss politics. I am here only in search of recruits.”

“Conscripts, you mean,” Martoh said, turning back to face him. “Typical. Use prisoners to put down an uprising caused by your own damned fool policies.”

Anea sat for a few moments. “Is everyone that cynical in your world, Martoh?”

“In the world I came from, one steals because that’s the only way he has to feed himself or his family. In the world I live in now, any other random person might try to kill me, just to prove he can. Pardon me if I seem a bit cynical when a stranger comes preaching salvation.”

Anea heaved a deep sigh. “Cynical or no, Martoh, you are not a stupid man. If His Majesty was going to conscript prisoners to go fight the Neldathi, why would I be here?”

Martoh had to concede that, but he wouldn’t admit it. “So what’s the deal?”

“Deal? There is no deal,” he said in a way that made it clear such horse trading was beneath him. “There is only an opportunity to serve your King and defend your homeland from barbarian invasion.”

“In return for what? Look, you’ve given the game away admitting that there will be no conscriptions. I get to say no thanks and stay right here. So why shouldn’t I?

“Freedom.” Anea let the word hang in the air while he got another paper from his case. “If you agree to fight, you will be free.”

Remember, The Water Road is now available at Amazon as well as in the real world at Empire Books & News.

Water Road Wednesday: Final Excerpt from The Water Road

For the third and final excerpt from The Water Road, we return to Antrey. In this scene, she’s escaped Tolenor and made her way into the mountains south of the Water Road itself. For the first time since she was a child, she encounters Neldathi in the flesh.

She jumped across the stream and made her way to the rocks, which clustered near the upstream corner. She sat down, slipped the bottle from her satchel, and took a long drink. What was once snow was now ice-cold water. She gulped it eagerly, knowing that the pool would provide a means to refill it.

Just as she took the last drink of water, Antrey heard a noise behind her, downstream, that sounded like a violent displacement of limbs and leaves. She turned and saw an elk dive out of the trees on the other side of the stream. Its great antlers were a tangled mess of underbrush ripped from the forest as it ran. Her eyes met those of the elk, which had stopped at the edge of the stream, gasping hard, its breath frosting in the chilled air. After a moment’s pause, it dropped its head and began to lap water from the stream.

Antrey closed her eyes for just a moment and heard the elk make a terrible screaming sound, like it was crying out in pain. It made her shudder and sent a bolt of pain shooting down her own spine. She opened her eyes and saw the elk, reared up on its hind legs, thrashing its head back and forth. There was an arrow in its neck, just above the shoulder. Antrey had not heard anything to indicate that anyone was around.

A salvo of three more arrows thwacked into the elk’s flank. It screamed again and tried to move away, upstream back to the trees, but it took only a few faltering steps before it collapsed in the snow. As it gasped for air, the white ground turned red with blood. The beast was trying desperately to live or calling out to die. Antrey wasn’t sure which.

Antrey was so transfixed by the elk’s plight that she forgot for a moment that the arrows meant that, after all this time, she was no longer alone. She did not hear the further rustling of the trees, but did see first one, then two, then half a dozen Neldathi emerge from the forest and approach the elk.

They were tall, with just the faintest tint of blue in their white skin. Were they naked, they would nearly blend in with the snowy ground. Each wore multiple layers of animal skins that obscured, but could not hide, that they were strong, powerful men. All had long black hair, which grew from a fringe of scalp at the back of their heads. It twisted in braids that ran halfway down their backs. About halfway down, the black color gave way to a pattern of red, black, and white strips. Three of them carried ornately carved bows, while two others had similar devices slung over their backs. They either had not noticed her or ignored her and approached the elk.

The other Neldathi, Antrey had thought initially, was unarmed. The tallest of the group, he strode towards the elk, reached inside the layers of his clothing, and pulled out a knife, bigger than anything Antrey had ever seen that was not called a sword. In a maneuver that showed years of practice and an abundance of skill, he knelt beside the elk, placed the great blade to its throat, and drew the knife across, ending the beast’s misery. All the while, he said something quickly under his breath.

Antrey had never seen anything like it in her life. When she was young she had never experienced a hunt or a kill, only the end result. The sight of such a brutally efficient killing shook her to the core. The bottle slipped from her hands and splashed into the pool underneath her. At the noise, the hunters turned and saw her.

The one that had killed the elk crouched motionless next to it, knife still in hand. The others moved away from the kill and sprang across the stream swiftly, switching their focus. They began to converge on her slowly, two from upstream in the direction of the elk, two others having circled around to come at her from the other direction. She lost sight of the fifth, but within moments she knew she was surrounded. Before it ever occurred to her to try and get away, five well-armed and curious Neldathi had blocked any means of escape.

She ignored the ones on her side of the stream and tried to make eye contact with the one by the elk. He appeared to be the leader of this hunting party or its senior member. Regardless, he was someone who commanded respect. Maybe by making contact directly with him she might open some line of communication, although she had no idea how to do that. At the very least, maybe he would put the knife away. The way he crouched there, casually displaying the bloody blade, made her think he meant to tell her that it might be her neck that was sliced open next.

As the others inched slowly closer to her, Antrey could feel their eyes on her, covering every inch of her with their eyes. One of them was close enough that Antrey thought he might have sniffed her, but she quickly dismissed that as a work of her imagination. That was something the barbarian Neldathi of the Altrerian culture would do, but made little sense upon rational examination. They would use every sense available to them, just as she would.

With each footstep that brought them closer, the snow crunched underfoot. Antrey’s heart raced the closer they came. It was calmed only somewhat when the one across the stream stood up, wiped the bloody blade of his knife on the elk’s carcass, and returned it to its sheath. When she heard a voice behind her, she nearly exploded.

As I said, that’s it for the excerpts from The Water Road. That’s because it finally comes out next Wednesday! After all these weeks of reading about it, isn’t it time you just read it for yourself? Head over to Amazon and pre-order your copy today (only 99 cents until the end of the month!).

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Water Road Wednesday: “The Missing Legion”

The Water Road is the first part of the trilogy, of course, and the first thing I wrote in this universe. It’s not the first to see the light of day, however.

At some point in the past, I decided I wanted to write a ghost story. October was coming up, it was something I hadn’t done before, and I thought it would be fun. I was in the middle of revising The Water Road at the time, so I decided to set it in that world. I quickly settled on a story about a hunter (in pursuit of one of the cryptid beasts that stalk Alteria) who gets lost in the woods and gets more than he bargained for.

I knew I didn’t want to set it during the time of The Water Road, so I set it much earlier, even before the First Neldathi Uprising and the forming of the Triumvirate. Indeed, it’s a time when two great cities in the Arbor are at war.

As for the ghost story itself, it’s influenced heavily by a section of Akira Kurosawa’s 1990 film Dreams that you can read about here. Or, you can just read “The Missing Legion,” which is part of my short story collection The Last Ereph and Other Stories. Here’s a snippet:

The corporal turned away and motioned for Taiman to get back on his horse. “You’re heading into the woods, you say?”

“Yes,” Taiman said.

“Are you sure you want to do that?”

“Absolutely,” Taiman said. “I’ve been chasing that beast for five days. If I can corner it in the woods, perhaps I can catch it alive.”

“Will that be worth it, you think?” the corporal asked.

“Of course,” Taiman said. “Why?  You’re not going to try and keep me from going, are you? Thought men in the Arbor valued free movement more than anything.”

“We will not stop you,” the corporal said. “But I would advise against going in, particularly if you don’t know the area. It’s very easy to get lost. Plus, they say things happen in those woods at night. Strange things, when the moons are full.”

Taiman chuckled and sighed. “Thank you for the warning.  Someday, the enlightenment that has come to the Guildlands will filter down to the Arbor as well. We no longer believe in superstitious nonsense. There are no strange things, only things that we do not understand. Besides, I am capable of handling any creature or person I might encounter. Now, if I may be on my way?”

The corporal told him how to best make his way around the camp and Taiman set off. He cursed the delay, but knew it had not spoiled his hunt. The beast had outrun him the day before, vanished from sight, but Taiman had held onto the trail. Barely.

His hopes rekindled when he spotted the beast through a telescope as it loped out of the trees in search of water. Once again he had a target to pursue. Taiman spurred his horse and charged off down river.

The Last Ereph and Other Stories is available at Amazon, including Kindle Unlimited, which means you can read it for free, essentially. Why wait?

Final Cover Idea (KDP)

Water Road Wednesday: Second Excerpt from The Water Road

In this scene, Strefer has run to the Triumvirate compound because of a buzz of rumors that something big has gone down there – very big. Sentinels are standing guard outside the Grand Council building as a crowd swells. She needs to get inside and find out what’s going on, but they’re not supposed to let anyone in.

Strefer stepped up and looked the Sentinel in the eyes.

“Who are you?” he asked, his voice a mixture of vigilance and weariness. He was tall and forceful, with fine light-green skin, most likely a Guilder. That was a stroke of luck, Strefer thought. His pikti was slung loosely across his back. The way he carried himself suggested he had been here a while.

Strefer opened the hand in which she had clutched her identifications and handed them to him. “My name is Strefer Quants. I’m with the Daily Register.”

He took the cards, gave them a quick glance, and handed them back to her. “Why should I care? You don’t think I’m going to let you in just because you work for some newspaper, do you?”

“Why not?” Strefer asked, slipping the cards back into her pouch. “Is there something in there you don’t want people to know about?”

The Sentinel shot back at her with a wry smile. “I am afraid I cannot comment,” he said, with affected formality.

“Do you see a notebook in my hand?” Strefer said, keeping the game going. It was one she would surely win. “I’m not asking you for any comment. I’m just asking if there is something going on up there that you’re trying to keep from the public.” She gestured towards the doors at the top of the marble steps.

“Perhaps I wasn’t clear, missus,” he said, the smile replaced by a glower as he stared down at her. “I have nothing to say about whether anything is happening inside here. Much less to the likes of you, notebook in hand or not.”

“Fair enough,” Strefer said in concession. She decided to try another approach. “But you’ll let me by so I can make my appointment, at least.”

“Appointment?” he asked, confusion sliding across his face like the shadow of clouds moving across the sky. “Appointment with who? And don’t say one of the Grand Council members. They would be in session now. And, at any rate, they don’t greet visitors.”

Score one for her, Strefer thought. She knew from talking with Tevis that interviews with members of the Grand Council were possible. Cutting them off completely meant something important had happened inside. “Of course it’s not with one of the Council members, who do I look like? No, it’s with,” she paused for a moment, grasping for a name. “Keretki,” she finally said, forced to pull a name out of thin air.

“Who?”

“Keretki,” Strefer said, knowing this was her hook. “You know, the policy coordinator for the Arborians? I have an appointment to meet with him to discuss some trade matters he has been dealing with during the session. I’m sure you’ve seen him around here.” She threw the last line in to dig a little at her adversary.

“No, missus, I don’t know him,” the Sentinel said. “But this isn’t my regular patrol.” Another useful bit of information. “Regardless, I can’t let you into the building right now.”

Strefer turned from amused to angry in a flash. “Now look here. My boss spent weeks setting up this interview, all right? The publisher back in Sermont even had to get involved. This interview will be the centerpiece of our coverage of the Council session for the next week or so. It’s very important. Not just to me, either, but Keretki, too. You know the Arborians, always sniping at each other over the smallest things. He has them all together on the same page for once and wants the public to know about it. Do you really want to be responsible for pissing off all those people?”

The Sentinel stood in silence, reaching for an answer that was not coming.

“It’ll be worth your trouble, I promise,” Strefer said. “Have you ever heard of Olrey, the publisher of the Daily Register? He has a reputation for airing his feuds in the press. He could make things very difficult for the Sentinels, the Grand Council, the…”

Exasperated, the Sentinel put up his hands. “All right, all right, fine. You win.”

“Thank you,” Strefer said, suddenly buoyant. “You’re a very reasonable man.”

But before Strefer could make it up the stairs, he put his hand on her chest to stop her. “Hold on a second. You get to go in, but there are two conditions. First, none of this conversation we’ve had here is going to show up in your paper, all right? I don’t…”

“Agreed,” she said, cutting him off. “Say no more. What’s the other one?”

“Second, the Grand Council chamber is off limits. Got it?”

“Absolutely,” she said. “Kerekti’s office is on the other side of the building, I think. I won’t be anywhere near the Grand Council chamber.”

With that, the Sentinel stood aside and let Strefer proceed up the stairs. There were another pair of Sentinels stationed by the front door, but they did nothing to halt her progress. Once inside, she made sure that neither of them were watching her, then she went to look for the Grand Council chamber.

Water Road Wednesday: Life In the Guilds

As I mentioned last week, Strefer Quants is from the United Guilds of Altreria, what’s commonly referred to as the Guildlands. The Guilders (as they’re known in The Water Road universe) live in a society that’s arranged completely differently from everywhere else in their world, even the Neldathi. Where family and kin create bonds in most places, Guild society is organized around the Guilds to which people belong. There are no families, as we traditionally think about it.

Here’s Strefer explaining to Rurek, her companion through The Water Road, a little bit of how that works:

“You talk about your mother and father, your siblings? We don’t really have concepts like that in the Guildlands. Sure, some woman gave birth to me and some man did his part so that I was conceived, but neither one of them raised me.”

Rurek shook his head. “You don’t even know who your parents are?”

“I told you, the concept of ‘parents’ really doesn’t exist where I come from. But to answer your question, yes, I do know who the two people who produced me were. I’ve met who you would call my mother once or twice. She is in the Guild of Musicians. I met her after seeing her sing at a concert once. She has a beautiful voice. Shame I didn’t inherit it,” Strefer said with a laugh. “The one you would call my father was from the Guild of Soldiers. He was killed fighting the Azkiri, from what I learned, before I could meet him.”

“I’m so sorry,” Rurek said with genuine compassion.

Strefer shook her head. “You still don’t get it. I’m not talking about someone like your father, who helped raise you, taught you things, protected you. To me he was never more than a name, and may have always been that way. I’m just answering your question about whether I knew who my biological ancestors were.”

“All right, then. No more sympathy from me,” Rurek said jokingly.

“I’ll take sympathy, thank you, but at the appropriate time and place.”

“Duly noted,” he said. “So, with that bridge crossed, who did raise you, then?”

“Not surprisingly,” Strefer said, starting on the final side of the pocket in which the pages had been hidden, “there’s a Guild for that. It’s called the Guild of Midwives, but it really includes a lot more people than that. Men and women, both, you know. Midwives, wet nurses, caregivers, you name it. They’re the ones that do the hard work of actually raising children.”

“But there’s more to it than that, surely,” Rurek said. “Parenting is more than just making sure your daughter gets fed and has a roof over her head at night.”

“It does in Kerkondala, because your society is structured around individual family units. Families just don’t exist like that in the Guildlands. Have you ever wondered about my last name?” she asked.

“Not really,” he said. “I know it sounds a lot like the city where you’re from, but that’s not uncommon in the Arbor or Telebria.”

“Except that, in the Arbor or Telebria, a similarity between a name and place is probably due to that person’s ancestors naming the town. Quants isn’t a family name, Rurek. It’s a short way of telling people I was born in Quantstown. My actual full, official name, as it appears on the rolls now, is Strefer of Quantstown of the Guild of Writers. Quite a mouthful, huh?”

He nodded. “I guess it is.”

“That Alban who got his head bashed in? His last name was Ventris, because that’s where he was from. Nothing more. My point is there is nothing about me that reaches back to some long line of ancestors, like you have.”

“Who named you, then?” Rurek asked.

Strefer stopped sewing for a moment, looked out over the water, and said, “You know, I’m not sure. Never occurred to me to ask. From as young as I can remember, I was Strefer. I could change it if I wanted to, but it works just as well as any other name, doesn’t it?”

“No argument here,” he said. “Rurek is an old family name, goes back generations. I hate it.”

“Why don’t you change it, then?” Strefer asked, returning to her task.

“Because,” Rurek said, stopping for a second to think about it, “it’s just not done where I come from. Like it or not, I do have some connection to my distant ancestors to worry about. Besides, we were talking about you and your childhood. So the Guild of Midwives did the care and feeding part, right? Then who taught you to read and write and how the world works and all that?”

“The Guild of Teachers,” she said. “I don’t know about Arborians, but I’ve heard Telebrians talk about the limited role teachers play in the education of their children. Makes no sense to me. The Guild of Teachers is where the experts are, in everything from how to cook a meal to how to mend your clothes to how to read and write.”

“So you went to school, then?”

“Of course,” she said. “But that’s not the only place you learn things. You know that. The members of the Guild of Teachers work in schools, but also in the dormitories where children live and all over. They teach adults, too, if they want or need to learn about something new.”

Rurek did not ask any more questions and they sat in silence for a few minutes. Finally, he said, “It just all seems so strange.”

“That’s because it’s not what you grew up with,” Strefer said, finishing her sewing and handing the coat back to Rurek. “We are most comfortable with what we know. That’s doubly true when you talk about things like how we grew up. To me, it sounds strange to hear people talking about their families and how much they despise a brother or cousin or whatnot, but will then turn around and defend them from attack by outsiders. It makes no sense to me.” She stood up and slung her satchel over her shoulder.

Guilders form bonds, but on their own terms and for their own reasons, rather than out of a sense of societal inertia. It’s a good example of how they interact with the world – rationally and practically, without an overlay of tradition or concerns about doing things differently. It’s a world view that others in the universe of The Water Road have a hard time grasping.