I took the last two weeks off of ‘growing my social media platform’. I know :) big no-no for an Indie Author, right? I’ll be honest: have a difficult time doing everything I’m supposed to do in a day. I homeschool my three oldest children, the youngest is almost 3 (so you can imagine how busy he is!), I do some volunteering, and I write. Somewhere between those tasks, I have to feed my family and keep the house decently clean. I don’t do any of these things completely alone – my daughters and my husband are wonderfully helpful!
That said, I still had to stop blogging, stop tweeting to give myself the push to finish a manuscript. I’m sharing the first chapter below. If you have a few moments, I would LOVE to have input – let me have it! The good, the bad and the draft-worthy ugly :)
The book is titled: LIES IN THE SHADOWS
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy (Allegorical)
Of Ogres, Attacks, and a Secret
It was time.
The sun shone through the center of the stained glass window of the White Dove marking the commencement of Open Court. Just beyond the oak doors the hum of talking resounded as people waited to present their cases. These days were King Julius’ least favorite.
“Stop fidgeting,” Chancellor Petros whispered without moving his lips.
“My shirt is too stiff,” Julius complained quietly back. “I think they used a month’s supply of starch on this collar.”
“You can thank Chancellor Bacchus for that,” Petros winked. “He thought that your shirt wilted last week and has assured that it will be as crisp as a fall apple.”
“What does a crisp shirt have to do with being a King?” Julius pulled the sleeves down to match the length of the sleeves of the coat.
“I believe his intent is to keep you from wilting as well. He was greatly dismayed by your lack of enthusiasm for –”
Julius interrupted, “If you are referring to that argument last week between the farmers, I was completely engrossed.”
“I think he was more concerned about your posture when the Duke invited you to his daughter’s birthday celebration.”
Julius blushed a fierce red and stood to re-adjust the pillow on the chair. “This pillow has buttons on it. Why would anyone put buttons on a seat cushion?”
Petros ignored the unsuccessful attempt to change the subject. “We are going to have to deal with these issues sooner or later. You cannot continue to turn down every invitation.”
Julius flopped the pillow back on the throne and sat down. “I vote we discuss it later. It’s almost time.”
With a reluctant nod, Julius motioned to the two guards at the door. With a heavy groan that matched the apprehension at another day stuck in open court, the doors were heaved open.
The people were not allowed in yet, but their faces always held the same awe. Evania is a kingdom nestled in the woods and most of the buildings are made of stone and timber. The castle grounds are made of the same materials, but soar to great heights the way castles do. The Great Hall is just like the name implies: great. With soaring buttresses, gilded tile floor, rich rugs and tapestries to soften the edges. Stained glass windows catch the sun and cast it on the throne, which is why the start time of open court is so important. The meeting room of the castle instilled respect.
Julius’ ancestor, who designed the Great Hall to impress his subjects, was more worried about appearances than true measures of strength. Henry, Julius’ father, used to bemoaned this day each week as well. Julius asked him why he did it; he was King after all, if he didn’t like something it seemed reasonable that he could change the rules. With a grimace, Henry quoted his father, “There are many things a King must do. One of the most important is to give the people a sense of safety in the appearance of their leader.”
And so the burden of maintaining appearances passed to Julius. With the overly-starched shirt, clean-pressed pants, tall boots with silver buckles, a sky blue overcoat with the Royal Ruby clasped at the collar, and the light from the colored glass in the windows, the image was complete.
And today, like many other days, it felt just like that – an image. Although Julius had been raised to be a leader and had been sitting on this throne for almost three years, the feeling of being prepared to rule the country was a daily struggle. There were many other things Julius wanted to do before taking the throne. But, Henry died leaving a seventeen-year-old Julius to carry both the immense sadness at his passing and the weight of the crown. That is, ‘crown’ figuratively speaking. There was no crown. Years ago during a time of war, the silver of the crown was melted down for a weapon. All that remained was the ruby, which was fashioned into a large clasp and worn at all times by the King.
The day started with reports from the leaders of the army. First to report was always the Ogre Captain, Urgane. Ogre’s are excellent border guards: superb eyesight and a sense of smell to rival any hound dog, and a frightful appearance that stops travelers in their tracks.
But Ogres are a paradox. At first glance, their appearance is quite alarming. They stand about four heads taller than the most men and have the width to match. Gifted with dense muscles, an Ogre’s strength rivals the wildest storm. They are built like men and women, but they are never mistaken them for what they are. Ogres are completely hairless, but just like people, they have different colored skin; although for Ogres, it has more to do with what they eat than their heritage. Captain Urgane is a darker shade of sky blue. Others Ogres are shades of green and yellow. There are red ogres too, but they are not part of the border guards, nor do they live with the Ogres of Evania. Red Ogres are fierce beings that did not agree to the treaty and remained in the mountains far to the north.
Ogres do not think highly of water, which is why Captain Urgane always reports first. Water is a wonderful beverage in the minds of Ogres, but in terms of personal hygiene, they don’t consider it a necessary tool. As Urgane approached the throne, King Julius glanced down the side halls and saw the maids in waiting, holding great dishes of incense to burn away the stench after he leaves. But, as it turned out, he stayed most of the day.
Captain Urgane walked up the carpet approaching the King’s chair on the dais, small clumps of mud dripped off his wide bare feet. Urgane bowed quite elaborately, always a surprise for his size and appearance, and spoke. “ High Majesty of Evania, Urgane, Captian of Border Guards, bearing news.” Ogres may look terrifying, but their voices ring in deep tones vibrating through the air, calming the most heated arguments just with the loveliness of the sound.
Chancellor Judah replied with the common greeting, sounding as bored as a slug: “Urgane is welcome in the Great Hall. King Julius, sixth son of the Prokopios Realm awaits your report.” Julius cringed at Chancellor Judah’s voice. Of the four Chancellors whom the King inherited from his father, Judah is perpetually consumed with rites, rituals and formality. He had a voice to match.
Captain Urgane stepped forward. Majesty, someone or something is crossing rivers near Phoenix at night between the outposts. Ogre guards found farms, burning, the families gone.”
“Dead?” Julius sat up straighter.
“I bring no certain answers. Blood and signs of struggles were found.”
“One farm?” Chancellor Petros asked.
“Three last week. Tracks were leading to the river.”
“Do you believe this is the work of Cordanians?” Chancellor Petros asked.
“We have not had a conflict with the Cordanians since my grandfather’s reign,” Julius said. “Our treaty with them still stands.”
“I can’t say for sure if it was Cordanians,” Captain Urgane shifted his axe to the other hand, “only that the attackers went to the river which borders our lands.”
Chancellor Bacchus spoke up. “May I suggest we send our scouts to the borders for a thorough study of the situation?”
Silence hung in the Great Hall, waiting for the King to concur with the Chancellor, who was about to agree when Captain Urgane stepped forward. “Speaking with respect Majesty and Chancellors, I carry a request from the Mayor of Phoenix asking for a formal inquiry.”
Julius’ heart soared. A formal inquiry would require time away from the castle to travel to the Settlements. A week away from the formalities of castle life was just the beacon of hope Julius needed.
“Do you know what that entails?” Chancellor Judah sighed and shifted his weight speaking to Urgane as if he had made the request for himself. “The King must visit the Settlements, two Chancellors and a General must accompany him, and the people of the Five Settlements must hold a Hall meeting.”
“Also the piece about bringing soldiers,” Captain Urgane added. “The Settlements make this request. Needs of protection; greater protection than their tools-of-trade provide.” He lifted his axe, a giant of axes. “My weapon is effective, but there are far too few Ogres along the borders to patrol effectively.”
At this point, everyone in the Great Hall took several steps backward as Captain Urgane’s stinging under arm stench permeated the room.
Chancellor Judah scoffed. “Captain Urgane, if your ogres gave chase and the attackers have returned to the river, then the threat has passed. Asking King Julius to make the journey to the Five Settlements is excessive.”
“Chancellor, three families are missing. Attacked homestead weren’t just burnt and ravaged, but torn apart. They were looking for something.”
“Do you know what?” Julius asked.
“It’s difficult to say. But each house was missing all the silver – there were no coins, no candlesticks, platters…nothing.”
Chancellor Judah paled, muttering, “By the love of the White Dove.”
Julius glanced at Chancellor Petros and saw that he was thinking the same thing. “With silver being taken, I believe that the request for soldiers and the inquiry is necessary. Captain Urgane, if you would please join us in the courtyard, I must consult with my Chancellors and make the necessary arrangements.”
Captain Urgane bowed again, and left through the doors leading to the courtyard gardens. Three attendants groaned softly as Julius turned to them and nodded for them to see to Captain Urgane’s needs.
“I will have Thomas notify the people that Open Court will be closed for now,” Chancellor Petros said.
“No,” Julius said. “I will. Thomas tends to come off arrogant. We don’t need any more difficulties today.”
Walking toward the doors, Julius entered the halls where the people waited. The King’s presence in the hall quieted the people immediately.
“Something has come to my attention that needs immediate action. I apologize for the change in Open Court for today. I hope that I will be able to return to this by the afternoon. If not, Chancellor Judah will hear your cases and administer just decisions. May the Peace of the White Dove be with you.” Nodding to them, King Julius closed the doors of the Great Hall and walked back to the throne. Chancellor Petros stood before the throne, staring at the carving on the back.
“In times of trouble,” he said, “the White Dove is our greatest protection.”
“I think the families who were taken would disagree,” King Julius said.
Petros nodded. “But trouble comes to us no matter what. How we respond determines how freely the White Dove can assist.”
“Free assistance,” the King smiled. “There is no such thing.”
The Chancellor laughed. “That was a good move,” he said, nodding toward the doors.
“With Judah’s reputation, no one will return this afternoon unless it is a serious need.”
By the time they arrived at the garden, the other Chancellors had joined Captain Urgane, all keeping a good distance from him. The purpose of the courtyard garden is to offer a quiet, un-eaves-droppable location for the King to meet with his advisors and Generals. The garden isn’t really a garden in the sense that anything edible grows. It is a stone courtyard surrounded by tall stone walls. The roof is polished alabaster and brass; a spectacular gift from the elves after the Evanians assisted with a skirmish with Red Ogres generations ago.
Matching the roundness of the garden, a circular stone table was constructed in the center. Not just any table for this space would do, but a map of Evania and all its surrounding countries was etched onto the surface. Before the alabaster roof was constructed, the king and advisors met here no matter what the weather, using tarps to keep the weather off. But parchment maps are easily destroyed in the rain or snow. The stone map on the table was the perfect solution. In the chill of the morning, two great fires had been lit.
The King’s entrance squelched a heated argument between the Chancellors and Captain Neleus, who is not an ogre, but had been Julius’ father’s friend.
“I see that the planning of a battle is already underway,” Julius interrupted.
The men, while not harming each other in any way, stepped back and looked as though they had just been caught fighting over the last pastry.
“Gentlemen,” Julius began, “it is obvious that you have all heard of Captain Urgane’s report of several attacks along the eastern borders.”
The men nodded.
“And you also know that someone has attacked settlements, burning homes and stealing families away, presumably, to the other side of the river into Cordania.”
Again they nodded.
“And the silver,” Julius paused, not to make the moment more dramatic, but because they all knew what it might mean. “Whoever is responsible for this aggression is possibly seeking silver.”
Each of them remembered the tales of generations past. The legends of beasts, resistant only to silver had haunted the dreams and childhood tales for decades. “I do not wish to jump to conclusions,” Julius said. “We all know that the silver alludes to a potential magical threat, but let’s remember too that the Settlers deal mostly in silver. This could be as simple as greed. Until we know more, we will treat it as such. But I will not walk into this blindly. We will send troops to the Five Settlements to increase the river guard.
“Captain Neleus,” Julius turned to the aged and wise commander, “your men will patrol the channel. General Maur, I would like four troops sent to the Eastern border. Two will patrol and two will escort the women and children back here if you believe the threat is great enough to merit an evacuation. Based on the settler’s strength and general stubbornness, we just may need to arm them.”
Chancellor Judah disagreed, which didn’t surprise anyone. Julius believed it is his unfulfilled ambition to counter everything he said. While he may be a thorn under the King’s heel, Julius has learned to defend all his actions with gross amounts of reason. “King Julius,” Judah began, “the expense of arming all the settlers would deplete our own stores of weaponry. I suggest we initiate an evacuation of the settlement area until the situation has been brought under control.”
“Let us not forget how the Settlers came to be Settlers,” Captain Neleus struggled to keep his temper under control, but years of battle training served him well in conversations with the Chancellors. “Hard work and blood. They bring in more than half of this city’s market foods. You feast daily on their hard work. If they do choose to stay and fight, I imagine they will fight valiantly to protect their homes.
“The women. too, are very strong. They fight off wolves and bears to protect their children and their land. Several years ago, a twelve-year old girl killed a grizzly bear with nothing more than a long knife.”
“I heard that story,” Julius said, “but I thought it was just a tall tale remarking on the strength of the Settlers.”
“It’s true.” General Maur nodded. “These people fear little. They are proud. They may not be learned or graceful in their formalities, but they are good people.”
“And you think they will fight under your command?” Julius asked. “If it comes to that?”
“I can’t imagine that they will take to tents and barracks with my men, but yes, they will fight.”
“I’m not comfortable leaving the women and children there, but if what you say is true, those who want the protection of the castle will have it.”
Chancellor Judah looked to Julius.
“I agree with Captain Neleus,” Julius said and Chancellor Judah bowed his acceptance of the decision. With that matter settled, Julius turned to Captain Urgane. “How many people have been taken?”
“Three families. Fifteen people,” Urgane said, counting on his fingers.
Julius stared at the map with Evania etched in the center. To the east, across the river was the mountainous land of Cordania, to the north, Elven lands. Those lands were not named, the Elves refused to mar the land with such trivial things as labels. The land was theirs and no one had yet dared take it away from them.
“The Cordanians are fearless. The strain between our lands has gone on for decades. Our treaty has been honored, but in personal dealings with any Cordanian, the tension is sometimes strong enough to taste like blood. These actions, these attacks, if they are the work of the Cordanian people, will destroy the thin peace we have maintained,” Julius turned to the men gathered. “General Maur, oversee the preparation of provisions. We leave at sunrise.”
Chancellor Petros followed Julius to the royal living quarters. Hartwin and Ortwin, Julius’ hunting hounds, stood and greeted them. They had been curled up together in front of the fireplace, still enjoying the sliver of heat from last night’s fire. They had been King Harold’s, Julius’ father’s hunting dogs, and were enjoying their last days in front of warm fireplaces. They didn’t hunt at all last year and Julius wouldn’t be taking them to the Settlements. They would never make it.
Neither of them spoke until the door to the hallway was securely locked. Chancellor Petros turned from the door and let out a long sigh. He removed his hat and with it the formality of being only a Chancellor to the King. “It’s happened again.”
“Let’s not jump to conclusions, Kristopher,” Julius said. “If the Cordanians are after wealth, silver is all the Settlers have. I will go and see if there is any proof of a greater threat.” Julius looked over to the wall of bookshelves. Some holding scrolls of maps, books of war strategies, others the myths and legends. But those held only words, retellings of what people remembered, probably fabricated to draw out the tension and lengthen the drama. Instead, Julius to the mantle and picked up the sword; it had been passed on from King Harold and worn at the hip of every King of Evania.
Chancellor Petros nodded. “Yes. I believe them. Perhaps they are a bit tall, but they were written from a base of truth.”
“That truth being that it’s possible to create Leviathans, vile creatures to which silver weapons are the only tools to use against them.”
Chancellor Petros stood next to Julius. “Your great-grandfather, the Good King Gerald, was the last to fight against magical beings. Of the men under your command, Captain Neleus is the only one old enough to remember hearing the Leviathan tales from someone who actually fought those battles.”
“His father?” Julius asked.
“His grandfather was a soldier in the fight that King Gerald led against the Leviathans. He was a young soldier at the time. I remember hearing Captain Neleus tell your father that after that battle with the Leviathans, his grandfather never slept for more than a few minutes.”
“I hope that isn’t what we are up against. There usually isn’t a reason to fight against the magical realm,” Julius said. “The Elves refuse to communicate with us, the Ogres have a treaty with us, and the others just mind themselves.”
Chancellor Petros looked to the books holding those stories and nodded. “Your father would have hoped you to be older.”
“My father wished for many things for me,” Julius said. “The greatest of those was for me to be a man.”
“Perhaps it will be difficult now to keep your secret.”
Julius laughed. “Yes, we might lose half our army if the Leviathans have returned and the other half if they learn they are led by a woman.”
“Julia,” Petros warned, “you must be careful.”
“Aren’t I always?”