Saturday, 13 December 2014
KYRATHABA RISING by William Bryan Miller
I received a copy of Kyrathaba Rising in exchange for an honest review and I have to say that when the second part of this book becomes available, I will be there to get my purchased copy. There are so many good ideas in Kyrathaba Rising by William Bryan Miller that it is hard to pin down which is the more interesting.
The book starts off with a cold open than introduces us to this dystopian world inhabited by Sethra and Byron, survivors of an alien invasion that leaves Planet Earth a radioactive wasteland. As a result, the survivors have been driven to an isolated subterranean existence with no idea if they are all that's left of humanity. While the trope of nuclear destruction may be quite common, what is unique is the manner in which the aliens exterminate the bulk of the human population. With our reliance on social media and electronic devices, how we may be wiped out by an alien intelligence is not only chilling but surprisingly plausible.
While the main plot of Kyrathaba deals with the new world that Sethra and Byron discovers and how it may well be humanity's salvation, there is also an equally compelling story in the way the A-3 bunker conducts its day to day business. The author paints the picture of a society that is almost if not more interesting than Kyrathaba itself. The balance between the two realities is quite expert as the riddles Sethra faces is weaved in spectacularly into the book's third act. From this point on, the dystopian tale I was reading became a sweeping saga with ambitions concepts.
Although the book begins with Sethra and Byron, Kyrathaba Rising is really an ensemble piece. We're introduced to several residents of A-3 but it is Dr. Mephford, Grant Thompson and for a brief time, Dr. Hazard that really stand out. From Dr. Mephford's strategic management of A-3 to a riveting first contact situation with Grant, these characters leap off the page and command your attention right to the end. My personal favorite was Dr. Mephford.
My only complaint is that I received a copy of Kyrathaba Rising as an Audible book and I found the performance of the narrator a little difficult to follow because she speaks a little too quickly. It makes absorbing the technical components of the book difficult but I solved this problem by slowing down the speed. She does get better as the book progresses and by the third act, the narration has evolved beautifully.
This is a fantastic book in the vein of of Isaac Asimov, Arthur C Clark with a dash of William Gibson. Telling you why would be spoiling the book because there are some excellent twists. The story is well written with great attention to detail, particularly in the description of how A-3 operations and the suspense artfully delivered. There is also some lovely Lord of the Rings references. By the time the book reaches the end, reader's appetite is properly wetted for the next installment.
I recommend this book to those who love hard science-fiction, a well-paced story as well as character studies. Kyratha Rising is an epic read that is only just getting started.
Monday, 1 December 2014
After taking revenge on a drug lord and his crew for murdering his sister, John Hunter is a wanted man. It’s 2030 and in the aftermath of the great plague, John makes his way to Haven, craving sanctuary and peace but instead runs into a rogue religious group who wants to play God even as they run rife with corruption. But they haven’t counted on meeting big bad John who’s meaner than they could ever be. And just when they think they’ve put him out of their misery, he’s resurrected from his hospital bed and hell hath no fury like a hunter scorned…who’s become a devil with a cause!
HUNTER’S HAVEN is an action packed thriller that grabs you by the throat and won’t let go until the end of the book. To miss this incredible adventure would be criminal! Get your copy today and enjoy the read of a lifetime!
This is an excerpt from Hunter's Haven, due for release on December 21st via Amazon and Smashwords.
"Casey and Lopez checked in yet?" Othello Price demanded.
Omar Phelps lowered the cell phone from his ear. His expression grim as he shook his head, jaw ticking as he formulated the best way to deliver his answer. In the end, he realized there was no best way, just the only way.
"No and they're not going to. Jacey, who’s working the strip around the corner from Lockweed, says they got hit hard. The whole building is up in flames. She doesn’t think they made it out."
"FUCK!" Othello swore, swiping all the contents of his desk to the floor in a burst of uncharacteristic rage. An assortment of objects clattered against the Persian rug—books, pens, papers and a tablet cracked on impact. He kicked the chair to its back before turning around to face Omar again.
"How many is that now?" He panted, fighting to compose himself again. His fists were clenched as he stared into the green felt on the oak desktop, trying to wrap his mind around how this could be happening at all.
"Twenty-two dead so far," Omar tried to hide his own fear at the storm coming their way. "We can't be sure of the exact number at Lockweeds. We know a couple of guys who haven't checked in yet."
Twenty-two men, all dead. Shot, burned, stabbed or killed in some equally gruesome fashion. Everyone he'd sent out to deal with the situation did not come back. When Dwyer bought it at the Sin Kitty Club, the night was young but that was hours ago. As the hours ticked by, as more and more of his guys were hit. Some in their homes, others were at the various businesses owned by the Triple C and some while their dicks were in their girlfriends' snatches.
It began to dawn on Othello he had crossed a line and he crossed the line with the wrong cop.
The fucking war hero was coming.
"How many guys we got around here?"
"Thirteen," Omar answered, still recovering from the realization that Othello, the baddest motherfucker he knew, was scared. "Four on the roof, three at the gates and the rest patrolling the house. There ain't no way that psycho cop is getting in here. We got eyes on the ground. He'll never get past the gate. Lamonte is watching the cameras."
"Good," Othello was grateful his young cousin was not in the front line so to speak. An hour ago, he did something he never imagined he would do. He sent Mona and the kids out of the city to her folks in Indiana. He didn't know if the cop would hurt them or not but he wasn't risking it. The cop wasn’t just killing members of his crew. He was killing anyone who worked for Triple C. Pimps, mules, dealers, cooks and soldiers. He didn't seem to care if they were male or female. If they were Triple C, they died.
"Don't worry Theo," Omar assured him, using that old nickname from back in the days when they use to run together as kids. "We'll get him."
"Yeah," Othello grunted and walked over to the liquor cabinet and retrieving a bottle of scotch from inside of it. He didn't pour himself a glass, taking a healthy swig of it because he wanted the liquor to burn its way down his throat.
"All this over his bitch sister," Omar commented going over to the leather sofa before lowering himself into it.
Othello tensed. He didn't want to think about the girl.
Mention of her dredged up the memories of the brunette they dragged off her college campus three days ago. Her brother was one of those cops who couldn't be intimidated or bribed. Fucking Captain America who came from the war thinking it meant shit in the real world. Othello wanted to show him how touchable he was, just like Charles Martin Smith in that old movie with Kevin Costner.
They had her for almost a day in one of his warehouses, him and four of his boys. Omar included. She was a real looker too, long legs, brown hair and a killer body. They took turns at her because she was so fucking sweet and because it would drive big brother crazy. She'd screamed and wailed as they tore into her body, smacking her good and bloody when she made too much noise.
Yet through it all, she didn't break. The bitch didn't fucking break. Even after they'd left her bleeding and naked, covered in their jizz, he remembered the look in her eyes, the defiance as she stared at him. She smiled with teeth broken and covered in blood and said to him without fear.
"He's going to kill all of you for this."
It was the last thing she said before he put a bullet in her head.
It pissed him off she hadn't begged, not once. Not even when they were violating her. She cried and she screamed when they hurt her but she didn't beg. That defiance infuriated him, made him think she’d deserved more pain, more desecration. So he told his boys to send her back to her brother, special delivery.
They sent her back in pieces.
Othello thought the cop was finished. No one came back from a thing like that. The leader of Triple C was confident the cop would rage and curse but that was all he could because unlike Charles Martin Smith, he and his crew were untouchable. In this world where the law was breaking down, he and his guys were the new reality. The cop bore no proof they were responsible and even if he did, there wasn't anyone in Chicago brave enough to come after the Triple C. They were invulnerable.
Or so Othello thought.
Something caught his eye through the window of the study. He winced as the light overloaded his retinas. Blinking the spots out of his eyes, twin strobes glared at him through the front gates. He strode over to the desk, he opened the top drawer and retrieved his gun, a Glock, and went to investigate.
"What's going on?" He heard Omar ask but ignored him. Before he reached the glass, gunfire broke out and dropped to his knees. Omar dove for the floor behind him. The rat-tat-tat of an assault rifle filled the air before bullets riddled the window above his head. Glass shattered and he was driven behind the cover of the desk.
Only when he took refuge behind the sturdy safety of oak did he dare look up again and this time, he saw the sentries at the gate were firing blankly at the strobes that just so happened to be headlights rushing at them. Not from a car though, he thought. They sat too far apart and too high off the ground.
The cement truck tore through the steel gates like paper, crumpling one and tearing the other off its hinges. The gates tumbled off the hood as if it had been swiped aside by its wipers. Two of his men, Naf and Elroy were mowed down as the vehicle accelerated. The third leap out of the way, only to be cut down by a barrage of gunfire from the driver's side.
Footsteps pounded over his head, the guys on the roof were running into position and he imagined the racket would bring the others patrolling the grounds. The truck rolled down the paved driveway before stopping short of the house, idling.
The door swung open without warning and the faint shape of a body seemed to be taking cover as the guys on the roof opened fire. The driver didn’t respond and lost in the sound of MAC-10s was a single burst of sound, like a champagne cork popping. With that single sound, the driver retreated into the safety of the cabin even as bullets pinged against the steel.
The explosion that followed rocked the house to its foundations. Screams tore through his ears as one of his men went over the side, landing on the grass near his window. His back was a mess of burnt flesh and fabric. It was difficult to tell which was which. He landed with a sickly thud, body still flaming but still.
"What the fuck was that?" Omar stared at the ceiling. Pieces of mortar had broken off in chunks and concrete dust was coming through freshly made cracks.
"I think the fucker used a rocket launcher!" Othello shouted getting to his feet.
Another burst of gunfire erupted as the men patrolling the grounds circled the house, closing in on the truck. Before they could get close enough, the side passenger door swung open once again.
"GET CLEAR!" Othello rant to the window and screamed. "GET CL...!"
He never finished the sentence because of another loud pop and this time, the grenade landed in the middle of the group. The explosion sent dirt and smoke in all direction. More screams followed the pop and whistle of another grenade being launched. The explosion landed closer to the house because once again the walls shuddered and the smoke and flames became more prolific. It was only the size of the place keeping him and Omar alive in the study.
As the lights died around the house, another eruption of gunfire filled the air. The large calibre shells being fired from behind the shield of the door ripped apart the remaining Triple C soldiers who hadn't been killed by the second grenade. The bodies of the dead or wounded, he'd never know were also riddled with stray gunfire as if the cop wanted to make sure they didn't get up.
"Jesus!" Lamonte stumbled into the room, "Theo! We need to get you out of here! That grenade took out all our guys on the roof."
The gunfire stopped abruptly and Othello ran to the window. The driver retreating into the cabin of the truck and gunned engine once more. The wheels spun in place, smoking up the driveway with the stench of burn rubber. The bullet had killed the lights outside but one of the truck's headlights remained and it glared into the house like a searching eye.
"Fuck this!" Othello growled and stomped to the front door. He wasn't going to wait for the crazy son of a bitch to come back at him. The door flung open and he stood beneath the portico and started shooting at the windscreen. The bullets of his .457 exploded out of the magnum, killing the headlight and what remained of the frosted glass.
"Your sister was such a good thing to fuck!" Othello taunted. "You should have heard her howl! She was begging for more by the time we were done!"
The wheels continued to spin even after the windscreen was gone. Through the darkness, he tried to see the driver but there didn't seem to be anybody at the wheel. What the fuck? Othello thought. Where was the war hero?
He had no sooner asked the question when suddenly the truck lurched forward, the wheels creating a loud screech. It roared forward, quickly escaping the drive way and ruining the manicured lawn. Othello squinted, trying to glimpse who was driving but as the truck rumbled towards the walkway leading up the porch, he was driven backwards into the house.
"Run!" He warned seconds before the truck smashed through the front porch, smashing through columns and bringing down the balcony. Masonry and wood clattered against the huge cement as it became wedged in the ruined doorway and buckled the walls against the study. The grill stopped short of the staircase upstairs.
Carlo and Meacham, the last of his soldiers still standing appeared, coming through the kitchen. They had been furthest out and thus spared the death that had come to the others on the front lawn. They opened fire, bathing the cabin with a murderous barrage of artillery. They maintained the relentless assault for an eternity, covering the dented front of the truck with so many holes the engines no longer ran. It died with pitiful final roar diminishing into weak rumble before stopping for good.
"Is he fucking dead?" Omar stepped forward, making sure Othello was behind him as he, Carlo and Meacham closed in.
"If he ain't dead," Carlo snorted, "he'd be wishing he was right about now."
Meacham, one of the few Caucasians in the Triple C, approached the driver's door first, nodding at Carlo to cover him as he pulled it open. The bullet ridden door swung open and Meacham peered in, expecting to find a body as ruined as the truck but the cabin was empty. A baseball bat was wedged against the accelerator.
The last thing Meacham noticed before the truck exploded taking Carlo and Omar with him was the man standing on the walkway to the house in the leather duster.
Othello had started running as soon as he heard the sound of the weapon discharging. He had tried to warn Omar and Lamonte but there wasn't enough time. The fireball swept through the house and he took comfort in the fact Omar’s death was quick. Lamonte was not so lucky. Othello stared at his cousin as he flung himself through the window was the fire sweeping over Lamonte, bathing him in flames.
He landed on the grass outside, scrambling backwards as he saw Lamonte flaying about in agony, his entire body breathed in fire. His screams were barely audible through the roar of the fire and he gagged realising the stench belonged to Lamonte's cooking flesh.
"LAMONTE!" Othello screamed. There were tears in his eyes not just from the smoke or seeing his house, the one he'd had built for Mona and the kids, crumbling before his eyes. The lawn which he had so enjoyed walking across in his bare feet was covered in debris from the explosions and the pieces of men were once his friends.
By now Lamonte had tumbled to the ground, disappearing in the blaze. The fire was out of control now and the heat so intense Othello was unable to stay where he was. Backing away, he started to get up when something moved at the edge of his vision. Still clutching his gun, he whirled around sharply only to cry out in pain when a boot caught him in the jaw. Reeling in pain, he fell against the grass and attempt to raise his hand. The same boot came down on his wrist, driving it into the ground forcing him to relinquish the weapon.
"FUCK YOU!" Othello cursed through the broken fragments of teeth.
He was answered by the butt of a rifle, this one shattering his nose. Othello uttered a scream, one hand flying to his face as the pain flared across his skull and warm blood flowed down his lips and chin. He opened his eyes to look and saw the same gun, now flipped over, the barrel held poised at his forehead.
"Come on war hero," Othello sneered as he stared into the cop's face. "Do it! Pull the trigger! Ain't gonna bring your bitch sister back is it?"
The cop shifted the barrel of the gun away from his forehead and fired.
Othello uttered a scream as the single bullet tore into his shoulder. He collapsed on the grass, as the pain tore through him. He didn't have time to recover because no sooner than one shot had stopped ringing in his head, another shot rang out and he was screaming again. His knee shattered and he lay on the grass writhing.
Panting hard, trying to regain some measure of dignity despite his pain, he glared at the cop with hate filled eyes. "Just do it! You fucking coward! Get it over with!"
The cop, the war hero, stared at him with dark eyes. There was no trace of grief, no sign of the fury provoking this night of carnage. Just dead, dark eyes boring into him, like he was a ghost already. Reaching into the duster, he retrieved a plastic bottle from his pocket and began squirting its contents at Othello.
The stuff smelled and it burned.
"What the fuck!" Othello glared at him and realized what he being doused with.
It was acetone.
"Fuck you war hero!!" The leader of the Triple C screamed as it dawned on him his final fate. "I'm glad I fucked your sister! Glad I sent her to you in a doggy bag!" He ranted as the cop emptied the bottle's contents all over him.
The cop reacted to none of this except to toss the bottle aside when he was done.
"Go to hell!" He shouted when he saw the lighter in the cop's hand.
"Probably will," John Hunter spoke for the first time. "But not before I make a stop in Gary, Indiana. You know where that is, don't you?"
Jesus, Mona and the kids!
He opened his mouth to plead but he never got the chance. The lighter flicked to life in the cop's hand a second before it was tossed at him.
After that, Othello Jones was beyond thinking about anything.
Soon to be available on Amazon. On sale on the 21t Dcember 2014 through Amaxon on
Tuesday, 25 November 2014
This is a short story based on chracters on my book 'The Queen of Carleon'.
While Arianne is away, Dare decides to take a trip into Sandrine with their son Braedan, with unexpected results...
DARE TAKES A DAY
Braedan was crying.
Arianne stared at her son. Her jaw set and determined. Some would say she wore the face of a woman preparing for battle. She stood before Braedan in his crib, trying to discern why he chose to wail as if a dozen of Balfure's evil disciples were pounding at the door. She did not know how long she studied him with the scrutiny of a hawk about to sweep on its prey. She hoped her deep observation would yield an answer to the question weighing upon her now.
Why wouldn't he stop crying?
This business of motherhood was nowhere as easy as she imagined.
Infants were rare among her people because elves were so long lived. Most chose to bear their children early so those Arianne could turn to for advice had left parenthood behind years. She had seen very young elves only once or twice in recent memory and had not spent nearly enough time among humans to witness how they raised their young from infancy.
After everything it took to ensure her son's safe arrival into the world, Arianne was determined she would not miss one moment of it. As a result, she refused to bestow the care of the baby to nurses as customary the norm in a royal house.
"What is the matter?" She could not endure this pitiful wailing any longer. "You are fed. You have not soiled yourself and I held you for so many hours my arms ache but you still persist in this!"
Braedan's face was red and slicked with moisture. His eyes stared at his mother with bewildering need. She let out a small groan of frustration, picking him up again, hoping her embrace would be enough to dispel this mood the boy had fallen into. The Crowned Prince paused for a moment before sputtering his silence away in fresh burst of tears.
"Oh Braedan!" Arianne fell into the chair by his crib. "I wish I knew what is wrong! I am not a good mother. I am unable to tell what ails you! Perhaps they are right. I should allow a nurse to attend to you since I am not fit! How am I supposed to be queen when I cannot even tend to a baby?"
Braedan voiced his agreement shrilly with another plaintive wail, ensuring his mother soon joined him.
It was this scene that greeted King Dare of Carleon when he stepped into the nursery.
Both his wife and son were weeping loudly. Arianne cradled Braedan in her arms, rocking the infant back and forth, desperation in her eyes as she continued to sob. It was difficult to say which of the two appeared more distressed but for the sake of his own sanity it was best to resolve the situation as quickly as possible.
"Arianne, what is wrong?" He winced realising it was the worst thing to ask.
"What is the wrong?" She glared at him. "Can you not tell?"
"I can tell you are upset," he also saw she was easier to anger than a dragon with a bad tooth.
"I am not upset!"
"Obviously," he replied neutrally.
"Why will he not stop crying?" She demanded. "I am his mother and I cannot calm him. He has not stopped other than to take a breath and each time I put him down again, he starts screaming! How am I supposed to be a good mother if I can't discover what troubles him! He is only a child! He relies upon me to care for him, to interpret his every need! What kind of mother am I if I am unable to unravel this simple mystery?"
Lady Imogene, the royal housekeeper, had not exaggerated when she sought him out in the throne room, Dare thought.
"Arianne," Dare approached her like a bear in the wild. "I will take him for awhile. You are exhausted and you have not slept in hours because of your fretting over this child."
"FRETTING! I am not fretting!"
Even when he fought the Shadow Lord Balfure, Dare never had to think so fast.
"I spoke poorly," He felt the ice beneath him cracking. "You have been devoted to Braedan since this birth. I think you are tired in mind and in body. Let me share the duty as I did contribute something to do with his creation."
"I would prefer you shared the labour it took to deliver him," she retorted dryly, her tears evaporating a little more quickly than her anger.
Dare did not even try to argue with that.
Unfortunately, his ordeal was far from done because the instant he took Braedan from Arianne, the prince selected this moment to settle down, his tearful display dissipating in a few short breaths.
Dare grimaced, perfectly aware of what was coming when he noted the expression of dismay creeping into Arianne's face as the baby quietened in his father's arms.
"You see! Even you are better at this than I am! He stops for you! He knows I am a terrible mother!"
Dare gave up.
Dare never thought he would see the day when he would be happy at Arianne leaving him for any length of time. In recent months she underwent trials would tax even the most wilful of minds and the rest away from Carleon would do her sanity (and his) a world of good.
It did not require much convincing for her to agree taking a trip to Gislaine, the home of Celene and Ronen, their good friends, as she was not oblivious to the incendiary state of her disposition. Elves seldom lost their temper but when it did happen, Dare elected to seek cover and ride out the storm.
Imogene explained some new mothers, at least human ones, could be prone to mood swings as their body recovered from the experience of childbirth. It appeared elven women suffered a similar version of his condition. Indeed the two hours of listening to Arianne blame him for everything going wrong since the beginning of creation seemed to prove this.
Of course it did not help the situation when throughout her entire tirade, Braedan did not cry once.
After she calmed down, Dare convinced Arianne to take up Celene's offer of a stay. Since arriving in Sandrine, Arianne made only one trip away and that occasion involved fighting an ancient demon with designs on their son. A leisurely journey to visit a good friend would do his love a world of good even if his motives seemed a little self-serving. Besides, he thought with a smile of evil satisfaction worthy of a Shadow Lord, she and Celene together could torture Ronen for awhile.
There were benefits to being king.
Thus Arianne left for Gislaine with an escort comprising an entourage of Carleon's finest soldiers who would ensure she arrived at her destination without incident. In truth, Dare could not deny feeling a little sad at her departure but he knew without doubt she needed some time away to be herself and not the Queen of Carleon or for that matter, Braedan's mother.
He considered going with her but realised he was required to rule and someone ought to care for Braedan during her absence. His wife would not leave the Keep if she thought her son would without even one of his parents.
With Arianne's departure, the palace returned to some semblance of normalcy and Dare resumed the management of the kingdom. Governing a land spent in three decades of oppression was no easy feat. With the map of Avalyne changed so much since the end of the Shadow War and new colonies being established across Carleon, there much to do.
While such occupations filled his days at night, he missed her. He wandered the halls in the evening, surprising his household and his guards with his unexpected appearances. It seemed his skills of stealth as a woodsman had not waned one wit and he was almost cleaved in half by the cook after surprising her in the kitchen when foraging for a late night snack.
After placing his entire staff on full alert for almost a week, Dare decided he needed to get out for awhile too before he drove them to revolt. What to do with his time was a difficult question because his kingship did not allow him from wandering too far from home. Even if councillors and ministers ran the day to day business of the kingdom in his stead, Carleon still needed its king.
"There are days Braedan, I wish things were the way they were before the war. With my friends, I went wherever I pleased. Now I am trapped in my own palace, unable to leave because matters of state require me close to home. How am I supposed to not become mad from this confinement?"
"There are so many things I wanted to show you. The Iolan Falls, the Starfall Mountains, the Green and the Yaran River,” Dare sighed continuing to feed his son after Imogene prepared the infant's bottle, knowing how much he looked forward to doing this himself.
Braedan, who was drinking his milk, offered his sympathy in a loud guzzle.
The words tumbled from his lips, a litany to the past he yearned to recapture at times. He stared at his son, thinking about all the places he had had seen in his life and feeling an overwhelming sense of loss at knowing by the time Braedan was old enough, much of what he remembered
would be gone.
"It appears I am as chained to this place as you."
Saying it out loud made Dare realise he yielded without even a fight. He was the King of Carleon, the exiled Prince, the one who had united the races of Avalyne and defeated the Shadow Lord. There was no reason why he should allow himself to be trapped like a prisoner, when he had faced far worse things in his life. He was Dare of House Icara and he would go where he would and he challenged anyone to stop him.
Besides he was crafty enough to leave the palace without anyone knowing.
"Little Prince, we are not languishing here like trapped animals. We are going out. Tomorrow, you and I will venture into the city and go where our feet take us. The Mage is fond of saying adventures begin when we go find them. We will embark upon one on our own."
Whether or not it was because he drained his bottle or because his father's words gave him reason for alarm, Braedan regarded him with an uneasy expression on his cherubic face.
"Now do not be discouraged," Dare was not about to let the child's frown dampen his enthusiasm for this plan, "trust me, nothing can go wrong."
Dare knew he was tempting fate.
"Sire, this is a terrible idea," Imogene attempted to talk some sense into the king whom she was certain had lost his mind.
"You worry too much," he assured her as he proceeded to pack Braedan's belongings into the pouch attached to a travelling harness he could mount on his back to carry the child about. "I am merely taking my son through Sandrine for a day or so. There is nothing so terrible about it."
She rolled her eyes in disbelief at his nonchalance to the whole business. She wondered if all of House Icara had been this difficult but supposed not because the others would have left the rearing of their children to nurses and tutors. Unfortunately, this king was not one of those nor was he accustomed to following convention as the last week revealed when he drove every member of the Keep to distraction by his unexpected appearances.
Palace life functioned smoothly with the household servants priding themselves in knowing the king's whereabouts at all times to ensure they could anticipate his every need. It was an unspoken agreement between house and king lasting generations. Dare was now flouting this tradition by having the audacity to go where he willed, no matter how much of a stir it created among the ranks of those dedicated to service.
No doubt this behaviour arose from the fact the Queen had gone to Gislaine but it was entirely possible the staff would burst into spontaneous celebration when she returned. Or kneel at her feet in gratitude.
"You are the king, it is not safe for you and the prince to be wandering about the city," She attempted once again to reason with Dare, her eyes wincing at the sight of him in his old travelling clothes. She began to appreciate Arianne's order to burn the man’s entire wardrobe from his exiled days. The housekeeper was glad she was not here, for it would vex her to no end to discover he had managed to hide some of it from her.
"My lady, I travelled the wilderness for many years; I fought Berserkers, ogres and even wyverns. I somehow succeeded in keeping the elves and a dwarves from disembowelling each other during the last war and prevent warrior maidens from picking fights in every tavern from here to Angarad, I am certain I will be able to handle myself in Sandrine."
She started to understand why Arianne needed the time away.
"I realise that Sire and I applaud your abilities for I have seen how disgruntled Celene can be but those were days when you were not king and did not intend on taking an infant with you."
He did not pause in his preparations as he lifted Braedan from his cradle. The child, dressed warmly appeared rather happy to be picked up by his father, disproving Imogene's case against this journey. Giving his son a proud smile, he turned with smugness to her, 'you see he is pleased to go."
"Oh Celestials Gods!" she groaned, seeing no good coming from this endeavour.
"Imogene," he said after he placed Braedan in his harness and slung the entire contraption against his back. "I know what I am doing. I am going to show the Prince the city he is bound to rule someday because I will not have him perched up here in an ivory tower, knowing nothing of the people whose fates he commands. I want him to see them as I see them, as I know you," he met her eye with a little smirk.
She sighed, feeling her resistance give way to the charm of his smile. Even at her age, she was not overpowered by the presence of the man, even when he was behaving like a dullard
"How long will you be gone?" She asked, caving in to his wishes against her better judgement.
"No more than a day or two," Dare grinned, grateful for her blessing even though as king he did not require it. However, since meeting Imogene, she was the one person whose respect he had been determined to earn because he suspected he did not give easily, even to her king.
"And you merely intend to walk about Sandrine?" she eyed him suspiciously, "nothing else? You will not venture beyond it?"
Dare puffed up his chest as he frowned at her impatiently, "I promise I will remain in Sandrine and will return in two days. I assume you are able to keep my departure something of a secret?"
"It will be difficult to do with the household is waiting with abated breath for your next unexpected appearance," she said dryly.
"No need for sarcasm," he returned.
"There is plenty of need for sense but I do not see that being accepted either," she retorted.
He chose to ignore her and as he left the nursery with Braedan on his back and his sword resting in its scabbard at his hip. As she watched the king of Carleon embarking upon his little 'adventure' she could not help but think this entire affair would end in disaster.
After managing to slip out of the palace unnoticed by anyone, not an easy thing to do with a child strapped to one's back, Dare entered Sandrine proper. After being crowned king, it became impossible to blend into the background without recognition. Now he travelled the streets, seeing people go about their day to day business with no suspicion he was anything but a father travelling with his son.
No one paid much attention to the tall man with the scraggly hair and worn clothes as he walked through the city. Women paused to admire the baby clinging to his back, cooing at how sweet he should carry Braedan with him but raised no more little interest than that. The air was filled with the contrasting smells of animals; manure, food cooking along with the occasional fresh breeze mixed in to create a unique scent.
Dare moved along the rows of houses and shops and thought it wonderful to be anonymous again.
Entering the marketplace, he saw a large collection of stalls awaiting patronage beneath pitched tents. All manner of things from exotic foods to weapons were being sold and customers were swirling through them like flies, perusing the wares on display. Dare found it easy to lose himself in this endeavour, pausing at shops, admiring what was being peddled. He purchased a lovely iridescently shelled necklace for Arianne, thinking how the colour would reflect against her skin and her eyes.
Once Braedan was freed from the harness upon his back, Dare carried the prince for awhile as they came to a stall whose main trade was the sale of livestock. While he had no need of any, Braedan bounced up and down in excitement at seeing the animals and so he indulged the boy. He had to confess to smiling as the child patted the nose of a heifer with his tiny hands and giggling so adorably it could have melted even a shadow lord’s heart.
It was at this point Dare introduced his son to a litter of puppies for sale.
A tan coloured puppy with large ears and disproportionate feet was soon on standing on its hind legs and lapping at Braedan's face, producing a stream of delightful baby giggles full. The animal itself was engaging and Dare enjoyed the sight of his child stroking the pup's sniffing nose. The whole scene reaffirmed his belief this day out had been a good idea.
Until he tried to leave.
Braedan began whimpering as the new toy was taken from him, staring at his father in dismay before bursting into tears.
"I think the babe is smitten," the heavyset man who was the proprietor of the stall said. He wore the smug smile of one who knew a sale was eminent.
"I do not think so," Dare shook his head, "he is too little for a pet right now."
Braedan continued to bawl, drawing the attention of those around him.
"Oh I do not think so," the man countered with confidence. "Clearly he thinks otherwise as well. This pup comes from good breeding. His mother and father were both animals with utmost loyalty for their masters. This babe could have no better friend and companion."
"Buying a pet is something requiring a discussion between myself and his mother," Dare answered with seriousness.
"You are the man of the house," the proprietor, who was quite adept at weakening resolved customers, declared out loud, "Surely a man is a king in his own home. Show some spine; your son loves the pup. You do not think King Dare would allow himself to be dictated to by his queen, would you?"
Five minutes later, Dare left the market with the puppy in tow.
"She is going to kill me when she gets home," Dare stared with disapproval over his shoulder at Braedan who was smiling happily at the puppy who was following behind them on a leash. "How am I going to explain this? You she will not scream at but me? Do you have any idea what kind of mood she has been this past few weeks? Even Balfure would run for cover."
Braedan was oblivious to his father's plight because he was too busy being entertained by his new pet.
"I suppose it is too much too hope I will receive any sympathy from you in this matter?" Dare sighed, feeling his heart soften as the smile on his son's face at the presence of the puppy that appeared as equally thrilled to be following them home.
"You expect me to name him as well?" He muttered as he left the marketplace, before anything else caught Braedan’s eye.
"We could call it Hadros," He remarked with a devilish smile. "However, I think Aeron would not be entirely impressed." Naming a dog after his best friend’s pompous brother was just wrong.
Dare came to the conclusion that a morning like this deserved a cup of ale. Selecting a quiet tavern for Braedan's sake, he entered the confines of the establishment with the dog following close at his heels. The moment he stepped inside, he drew the notice of the patrons within who stared at him with curiosity. It was not often they were treated to the sight of a grown man travelling with an infant and a puppy.
Trying to remain as unobtrusive as possible, he found himself a table at the corner of the room, hoping the shadows in the place would make him blend into the background again. Fortunately the attention of the span of the average inn customer was brief and the arrival of comely wench with half exposed bosom in a dress one size too small for her soon made him a forgotten issue. Dare could relax once again.
"Oh what a lovely baby," the serving maid greeted as she came to his table. Braedan rested comfortably in his harness on one of the free chairs, within easy reach of his father. Braedan's gaze was still fixed on the pup who was patiently allowing the small child to tug gently upon its floppy ears as it stood against the chair on its front paws.
"Thank you," Dare was unable to keep the pride from his voice, "he is my son."
"He is so beautiful," the maid complimented and tweaked Braedan's nose before being rewarded with a toothless smile. "Where is his mother?"
She was a pretty young thing, no more than twenty he wagered with hair the colour of corn silk, a child Dare thought to himself as she stared at him with more than passing interest. Before his marriage he might have considered reciprocating but that was a long time ago, before Arianne.
"She is away for a few weeks but will be returning soon enough.”
“What a shame," she winked at him with suggestion. "I would have enjoyed keeping you and your babe company."
"I am certain you would, however, for now a meal is all we need," Dare said a polite smile.
"A meal is what you will receive but you if require more, I will be happy to accommodate you."
She gave him a flirtatious smile as she drew away.
Dare watched as she sauntered away before noticing Braedan's attention had drifted away from the puppy back to him. The child seemed to be staring at him with accusation in his eyes and, his small bow shaped mouth was curved in disapproval.
"Do not look at me like that. I did nothing to encourage her. I cannot help it if I am a lure to women. I have only eyes only for your mother. It is a terrible curse to be constantly set upon by pretty faces who think me irresistible."
Braedan did not speak but his expression spoke volumes.
Meanwhile, Arianne was making known to the household, having returned early. Her journey to Gislaine had been cut short due to a spate of bad weather a few days out of Sandrine that had made mountain travel problematic.
Her escort, Captain Darond proposed returning to wait until the weather settled before making the attempt again. Despite being disappointed at having her trip end so prematurely, Arianne could not deny she was happy to come home to her king and her son. Even if she had been away from them only a few days, it had done her good to be away from things and she was now eager to be reunited with her family.
“Your Highness!" Imogene exclaimed in the main hall as servants moved past her as they carried Arianne's belongings to her chambers.
"Imogene," she said with warmth as she wrapped her arms around the woman in an embrace, "it is good to be home. How are you?"
"I am well and it is good to see you," she replied pleased at the queen's return although she was unaware of how Arianne would take the news of Dare's 'adventure' into Sandrine. "We did not expect you back so soon."
"Well I did not intend to come back so early but rains were harsh against the mountains and Darond feared it may have loosened the earth so much we risked being caught in a landslide if we continued."
"Then it is wise you returned," Imogene declared. The king would be devastated if anything happened to his beloved queen.
"So," Arianne asked, looking about her and wondering why her husband had not yet come to greet her, "where is Dare?"
Imogene debated how to answer this. If it were councillors or other members of the court who asked for Dare, she could respond easily enough, remembering what leave he had given her to keep his departure from the Keep a secret, however, it was an entirely different matter concealing the truth from the Queen. "He is not here," she responded after a moment.
"Not in the palace?" Arianne stared at the woman; "he left Sandrine?"
Only an emergency or a preordained trip would be reason enough for him to leave the city. If there was any business involving him in Carleon, more often than not, it would be settled here in these walls.
"No, he remains in Sandrine," the wise woman found it harder to keep the king's secret, particularly from an elf.
"So where is he?" Arianne asked, experienced enough to recognise hesitation.
"He is in the city," Imogene admitted at last. "He was lonely without you here my queen, so he chose to spend a day or two in town, travelling in the manner of ordinary folk, not as king."
"Oh," Arianne did not understanding what all the fuss was about. "You need not appear so anxious revealing this to me Imogene. My husband can take care of himself. He has fought a great many of things in his time to be ever caught unsurprised by anything. Perhaps the time away from all this pomp will do him good. He is a wanderer at heart after all. Being raised without a royal upbringing left its mark upon him."
"Well I'm glad to hear," Imogene sighed with relief, "I thought for certain you would be upset with he and the Prince..."
"WHAT?" Arianne cut off her off with that startled exclamation. "He took Braedan with him?"
"Why yes," the older woman realized that she had made an uncalculated error with that unwitting revelation.
"He took my son with him?" The Queen sputtered in fury. "Did you not try to stop him?"
"I did but he was insistent that the boy see the world as he once did," Imogene tried to explain and defend Dare as well.
"He is still a baby! The only thing of interest to a baby is where his milk comes from!"
"I did attempt to point this out to the king but you know how he can be."
"Oh yes," Arianne stomped towards the palace doors again, "I am well aware of how he can be. My mother warned me you know, about the foolishness of men but no, I was determined to have one for my husband! Dare is not like that, I told her, he is sensible! Sensible as a post!"
Imogene was not brave enough to argue with her at this point.
"My lady, where are you going?"
"Where do you think?" Arianne almost growled and it was a disconcerting sound coming from an elf, "to find that dullard I married!
Dare was regretting walking into this tavern for a meal. The serving maid who had propositioned him earlier did not give up and each time she passed his way, offered him another alluring smile of invitation. He may not have minded if he was a bachelor but not as a married man in the company of his infant son. Dare decided to finish his meal quickly so he could make a swift departure from the place.
"Are you certain I can get nothing for you?" The lady asked when Dare asked to pay.
"Nothing," he replied, noticing rather large woodsmen entering the establishment from the corner of his eye. It was difficult to miss the man since on a good day he would stand as tall as a tree. The behemoth swept his gaze across the room and came to rest on him.
"That is a shame," she sighed wistfully, her hand reaching for a lock of his hair to which Dare pulled away swiftly. "I would like to have known you better. It is so rare to find men who care enough about their children to keep them so close."
"My wife trained me well," he said standing up from the table and picked up Braedan who had fallen asleep after his milk. "I take my leave of you lady," he tossed a few coins on the table in payment of his meal.
"Elsa!" The giant bellowed as he saw Dare and the maid in each other's company,
The woman turned around and barked with annoyance to the man striding towards her, "What do you want Illym? I told you it is over between us!"
He noted the way the giant's eyes narrowed as she made the declaration and was beset by a terrible premonition things were about to turn ugly if he did not leave right this instant.
"I love you Elsa! I will not lose you! Tell me what I can do to prove myself to you? What can I do to win your heart?"
"Nothing!" She hissed viciously, "you can do nothing for my heart is hardened against your words."
Dare attempted to retrieve Braedan so that he could slip past the quarrelling lovers when the giant glared at him. With a sinking feeling, he knew that his promise to Imogene to stay out of trouble was in dire straits.
"Is that because there is another? Have you bestowed your affections upon this scruffy Northman? He looks like some kind of rogue!" the man accused Dare almost predictably.
"This rogue possesses more hear then you ever will!" The lady came to Dare's defence much to the king's exasperation. "He is not afraid of being a father or having children!"
"I see," the one called Illym turned his angry gaze upon him once more. "You would steal my lady?"
"I would steal nothing," Dare snapped, his head swimming at how fast this situation had deteriorated. "She is not mine to take from you."
"You are right about that!" The giant roared and lunged towards him.
The king had barely enough time to leap out of the way before the table and everything on it went flying under the man's bulk. Braedan who was still on the chair was awakened by the commotion and immediately started crying at being roused from his sleep so abruptly. Elsa who was the centre of this triangle let out an ear-piercing scream for her suitor to stop this violence that went unnoticed.
"Stop it Illym!" she shouted. "Leave him alone!"
"You would defend him!" he accused. "Who is he to you then? When did he capture your heart?"
"I captured no one's heart!" Dare growled in anger. "I came here for a meal! I do not have any designs upon her at all!"
The man turned to him and then asked, "is she not good enough for you?'
Dare let out a frustrated groan, "oh for the love of the Gods! I do not wish to hurt you but if you persist on this attack, I will defend myself."
The giant's response to this was to pick up the table and fling it in Dare's direction. By now, Elsa had picked up Braedan, taking him out of harm's way while the puppy circled her feet as it watched cautiously the brawl unfolding before them. The tavern owner had sent someone running out the door as the rest of the patrons formed a small ring around the two men to watch the fight. They knew Illym and the strength of the giant's rage when properly inspired and though they felt for this stranger who became unwittingly caught in the dispute between the man and his lady.
Unsheathing his blade, Dare swung at the chair that was thrown at him and demolished the chair with one powerful strike. His opponent, somewhat surprised by his swordsman's skill, paused a moment before picking up another table and protecting himself as he advanced upon Dare. The patrons at that particular table scurried away as their plates clattered noisily to the floor.
Dare glimpsed the table coming at him and dove beneath it, managing to crawl through the man's legs to the other side of him. Without wasting any time, Dare threw a kick in the centre of the Illym's back and sent him sprawling. Both man and table went crashing and when the behemoth attempted to stand, he found himself staring at a blade against his throat.
"I do not wish to hurt you," Dare repeated himself breathing hard, more from annoyance than exertion. "But this foolishness will stop. I have no designs upon your lady and I believe if you paused a moment to consider things instead of thinking through the fire of jealousy, you will decide I am right."
Unfortunately, the answer never came because at that instant, the local constabulary filed into the tavern and arrested them both.
Dare stared through the bars of the community gaol house and wondered if things could become any worse.
In the cell next to his, sat Elsa's suitor appearing as disgruntled as he at the position they now found themselves in. Both men cast smouldering glares of accusation at each other and traded insults.
Dare was unable to believe the situation he was in. What his court would think if they realised the King of Carleon had been arrested for being disorderly in a public tavern? He would never live down the shame. Still the embarrassment of his situation was the least of his troubles. The crime for which he was accused would mean he might be incarcerated for days and aside from the obvious inconvenience this would cause, what would become of Braedan in the meantime?
Fortunately at present, Braedan seemed to be the centre of attention in the gaol as he held court with the constables who utterly charmed by the babe. Dare supposed he ought to be grateful they were treating Braedan with such care but it did not help his problem. Though he loathed his next course of action, he could not permit this play to continue any further.
The role of the ordinary citizen had gone far enough, Dare needed to be king again to extricate himself from this situation.
"Constable," Dare went to the bars and peered at the man holding Braedan on his lap. "Release me, I am King Dare."
The chatter of those assembled fell silent with that statement as they stared at each other with astonishment bursting out laughing. Even Illym in the cell next door had erupted into similar amusement and Dare was visited with the notion this day was about to get a good deal longer.
"King Dare?" The Head Constable, a man name Laemir, snorted with disbelief. "Whatever are you doing in a tavern accosting a maid?"
"I am the king," Dare smouldered, "you know very well I was a wanderer before I came to the throne. Did it not occur to you I might wish to walk amongst people and I did not accost any maid!"
Even as he said it, Dare knew he sounded ridiculous.
"I suppose this babe here is the Crowned Prince?" The man eyed Braedan sceptically.
"As a matter of fact yes," Dare answered before being met with more laughing. "Constable, I chose to leave the castle with my son for a day. I do this on occasionally but now I wish to be released so I can return there."
"Now listen to me," the constable said impatiently. "You are in a bit of trouble that will require a session with the magistrate. This attempt of yours fools no one and belittles you even more. Continue this nonsense and I will add impersonating the king to your list of offences."
"I am not impersonating the king!" Dare hissed. "I am he! I am Dare of House Icara, King of Carleon. I fought at Astaroth and the Iron Citadel! If you do not believe me then request someone summon the Lady Imogene from the palace and she will confirm this with you."
"I know the Lady Imogene," Laemir returned tautly, "she is a good woman with long service at the Keep. She is too good to be bothered by lies such as yours. Now stop this charade and tell me how to get in touch with the child's mother. I am certain she must be worried sick that her child has been stolen by a lunatic!"
If she knew, he wouldn’t be far wrong, Dare thought to himself.
"That is my son!" Dare insisted, refusing to give up hope that he might convince the constable of his identity yet. "The sword on that table which you have seen fit to confiscate is the blade that defeated Balfure. I am who I claim to be!"
One of the other constables picked up his sword that had been taken from Dare's hand during the arrest. It had taken the effort of three during to wrestle it out of his hand.
"The weapon does seem as if it belongs to a noble house," the man remarked.
"So?" Laermir exclaimed incredulously, "that could be said of any sword! This man looks like he has been living rough! I will not for an instant believe this is King Dare!"
"I am King Dare!" Dare snapped. "When the kingdom goes to complete ruin because I am in here, you will have no one but yourself to blame!"
"I will try and live with the shame," Laemir retorted. "In the meantime, I am bound to turn this child to the local orphanage, until we are able to locate his mother."
"That will not be necessary," a new voice filled the room and if Dare thought he had been in trouble before this moment, he grossly miscalculated his estimation of peril when he saw Arianne enter the gaol house, followed by Captain Darond.
Laemir's jaw dropped open in horror as Arianne swept into the room, her presence filling its dreary confines with the glow of her beauty. There was no questioning her identity for everything about her spoke royalty. While Dare's appearance might make it difficult to believe he was King, She could not be mistaken for anything other than the Queen.
The other constables had dropped to their knees, quivering in fear at the mistake they had made. Realising now, that if the Queen was here, then the man they had dragged into a cell was indeed the king! Reeling at the news, they were also contemplating what form their executions would take because of their monumental error.
"You really are him?" Laemir stared aghast at him with nothing less than horror in his eyes.
"I told you," he said with triumph until he saw the caught the glare of cold fire in Arianne's eyes.
"How did you find me? He asked her.
"Captain Darond did a little investigation and learnt that a man with an infant was arrested for brawling in a tavern. Since I know of no other male foolish enough to land himself in such a predicament with a child in his company, I guessed it was you," Arianne retorted.
Darond ordered one of the constables to open the door but somehow Dare felt safer behind bars.
"Would you please give me my son?" She asked politely but her tone was one that made no man present dare disobey, Dare included.
Awestruck, Laemir handed Braedan to her. Arianne beamed radiantly at her son, capturing the heart of everyone present, as she held her babe close to her. Braedan, familiar with her scent, bounced delighted in her embrace, recognizing the one person who offered him even more comfort than the father who was beyond his reach.
"Hello my love," Arianne cooed in her son's ear. "Have you been wandering about the city with your imbecile father?" She said this is a voice so sweet she could be telling him a bedtime story.
"Rian, I can explain," Dare stammered.
"Explain?" She replied, still looking at her baby, wearing a smile on her face and speaking in that soft dulcet tone. "Explain what? That you decided to relive your youth by taking our son out of his nursery and into the world without any protection whatsoever? If you wish to go travelling about the countryside, you did not need to take Braedan with you. He can barely sit up properly, how could you even think of taking him out the palace? Have you lost your mind?"
"I wanted to show him the outside world, to meet our people," Dare struggled to explain, further humiliated by the fact that this conversation was being carried out in full view of the gaol’s occupants.
"Obviously you have done an excellent job since I find you here," Arianne met his gaze with an icy gleam in his eyes.
"That is not his fault, your highness," Illym made himself heard from the other cell. "If I had not involved him in a fight over my Elsa, he would not be here. I thought he was attempting to woo her."
"Do... not... help... me!" Dare snapped as Arianne's brow arched at that snippet of news.
"We are returning home NOW," Arianne ordered, turning on her heels and storming away from the cell.
"Sire, I am so sorry! Please do not behead me or my men for this! We are only doing our jobs! It is our duty to keep order!" Laemir started to babble, his mind finally releasing him from his shock enough to form some measure of response to what was transpiring today.
"I do not begrudge you Constable," Dare sighed as he stepped out of the cell and was given a thoroughly sympathetic look by Captain Darond who knew what the King was about to endure at the hands of his queen. "Let us put this behind us shall we?"
"Dare!" Arianne barked as she stormed out of the place, "we are leaving."
"Yes Arianne," he said meekly and dropped his head like a condemned man on his way to his execution.
"Wait," one of the constables called out before either Arianne or Dare departed the room. "Do not forget your dog."
"Dog?" Arianne asked. "What dog?"
If you enjoyed this story, The Queen of Carleon is for sale on Amazon and Smashwords.
If you enjoyed this story, The Queen of Carleon is for sale on Amazon and Smashwords.
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