So, I have three novels going through the editing/ review process. Another four under consideration by the publisher and five already released. Not to mention the numerous anthologies and round robin novels I’ve had the privilege of being a part of. To commemorate my forthcoming works I decided to leave you all with a little taste of what I like to call: The Dragon Hunters. Enjoy-or not. Either way let me know what you think!
A Foul Wind
A pale wind kissed the fading winter day. Spring was but a few weeks away and the lands were still being assailed by an unexpected blizzard coming down from the Darkwall Mountains to the north. Massive snowdrifts dotted the lightly forested plains. Trees drooped under the weight of gathering ice. Winds howled and screamed in tortured agony from canyon to valley. Even the skies, normally pale blue by this time, were sickened in a mottle of grey and black. Winter refused to let go.
Normally Fitch Iane would be nestled in his favorite chair built by his great grandfather, in front of the fireplace, but this winter had been especially harsh on hunting and fishing. A record six storms all but crippled the lands, making it next to impossible for most to gather food or firewood. As he tramped through the woods on the way home, Fitch wished for the thousandth time that he’d been born some sort of royalty. Living in a warm, toasty palace with marble floors and dozens of waiting servants seemed the life. A sudden gust of wind sent ice and snow down the back of his heavy coat, forcing Fitch back to grim reality.
Still, it wasn’t all bad. His knapsack was filled with three cleaned and quartered hares and a handful of plucked grouse. Not too bad considering it was just for him and his wife. The thought of Shar, with her warming smile and long, flowing golden hair stirred his passions. How much he’d give to be lying next to her supple body under the down blankets right now. Fitch shook his head. That sort of thinking would leave a man dead quicker than getting cut wrong. Besides, he still had too far to go to get distracted with thoughts of what came next.
Fitch sighed and continued his trek across the darkening landscape. He couldn’t help but shiver at the unseasonable cold. The snow should be nearly gone by now and the land was soggy from the additional moisture. A quick glance around and he figured it would be another six weeks before things got right. Six whole weeks. Fitch wondered how this year’s harvest would turn out. The farmers were all but panicking by now. As it was, this part of Thrae wasn’t known for outstanding crops or heavy farming. Most of the residents of Gend, Fitch’s home since birth, were miners. The kingdom of Thrae won ownership of the jewel mines after a fierce war with the Dwarves of the Bairn Hills nearly a generation ago.
It was left to those like Fitch to provide for their homes and right now all he wanted was to get out of the insufferable cold. He could almost taste the stew and freshly baked dark bread. A pint of heavy ale would do nicely too. Fitch stumbled, his foot snagging on a buried root. A tremendous roar shook the very ground as he dropped. His heart froze as a blast of freezing wind sliced into him. Fitch looked around but couldn’t spot the source of the fury in the gathering darkness.
“What?” he asked himself, hoping his mind could rationalize the moment.
Fitch looked up just then and noticed the entire eastern sky seemed as if it was on fire. He smelled ash and burnt meat. He wanted to believe it was just an illusion played by the setting sun. The first flicker of flames shooting up over the treetops changed his mind. He looked around. Everywhere he looked trees were blackened and dead. Fresh snow was dusty, charcoal splashed. What nightmare could have done such a thing? A tiny whisper in the back of his mind warned that the answers were much closer than he wished.
Then it hit him. A horrible, sickening thought all but crippling him. Fire. Smoke. Distance. Gend! His village was burning. Fitch dropped his sack and started running. The need to get home, to find Shar, overpowered all other thoughts and emotions. A nightmarish roar frightened the world. Fitch covered his ears and ran. Blood began to trickle from his nose.
When he got closer he could hear new sounds, sickening sounds of steel ripping human flesh. Women screaming. Children crying. Fitch suddenly grew very afraid. His body became lethargic. He found it difficult just to move. Shar. Thinking of her kept him going, but he was so afraid. A warm feeling ran down his leg. Sweat turned cold. His body shivered and trembled. He was no great hero, but neither was he a coward. What manner of demon can make me so? Fitch Iane gave in to his fears and collapsed. He used what strength remained to crawl under the boughs of a snow-laden fir and cried.
The screaming quickly drowned out his sorrow. Fitch tried covering his ears. Tears streaked his frozen cheeks. Strength abandoned him. Fear dug deeper, gaining strength and crushing him. Jagged pieces of ice fell from the pine needles and cut his face. He didn’t care. His only concern was staying alive. Just to stay alive!
What must have been hundreds of booted feet crunching through the ice-covered snow inspired new terror. Fitch reluctantly opened his eyes and had to cover his mouth to keep the gasp from escaping. He barely made out the huge, barrel-bodied figures marching by. Watching the shadows move so stealthily through the forest reminded him of the ghost and ghoul stories his mother used to tell him and his three brothers when they were growing up. These apparitions were much more real. Fitch got a good look as they marched closer.
Garbed in black and grey, they had massive bodies and spoke in a gnarled tongue. The sound of their boots crunching made him cringe. Stomp, stomp, stomp. He wanted to break and run but couldn’t. The demons wore armor and had flowing capes of the purest black. Spikes jutted up from their helmets. Axe and sword rested in their mailed hands. Some sang songs which were cruel and wicked. Fitch saw hundreds of them moving through the forest. He’d never believed in demons before. They seemed so dire, menacing. Then he noticed the tiny rivers of crimson staining their armor. Blood! Demons or not, they were pure killers. Struggling to control his sobs, Fitch watched them as they merrily went about slaughtering every last man, woman, and child in his village.
A pair of demons halted nearby, close enough for him to hear part of their conversation.
“…much longer?” snarled the first.
The second spit a wad of bloody phlegm. “Maggots take too long to kill. No honor. They run instead of fight.”
“The king’s army will come soon. We must hurry. Ramulus wants them all dead but we aren’t strong enough to fight an army.”
“One hour,” the second confirmed.
The demons stalked off, going their separate ways and leaving Fitch more frightened than before. He didn’t want to die. The thought replayed in his head over and over. He knew it was shameful to be so selfish but he couldn’t help it. Gradually, the slaughter abated and the demons returned to the shadows. Fitch was alone. The flames of Gend slowly faded. Night crawled back into the world. He nearly summoned the strength to crawl out of his self-imposed prison when that horrible roar shattered the calm. A fierce gust of wind shook most of the snow from the branches. Fitch pulled his knees up as an immense presence sailed overhead. Wrapping his arms around his knees, he cried himself to sleep.