Today’s tour hosts are Tracy Falbe, who will be showcasing Wizard of Ends on her blog, and Marcia at Bookin’ It, who will be sharing a guest post from me with five reasons to love the series’ MC, Lashlor Leaflin. Go on over and take a peek!
Now, read the entire first chapter of Wizard of Ends, Book 1!
Wizard of Ends, Book 1
King Lanaran Dragonsbane, ruler of the Land of Ends, stood at the foot of the royal bed, gazing down at the sleeping queen, whose silky black hair framed her pale oval face. So intense was his love for Queen Narraki that his breath caught in his throat as a faint smile curved her delicate lips. She must be dreaming about something pleasant, he thought, realising that he was smiling too – her smiles had always been so infectious. Even now, in this darkest of moments. His chest ached with the knowledge of what was to come. He could stop it if he wanted to. All he had to do was give the order and she could remain here where it was safe. He could… but he couldn’t. Not if he was to retain his throne – and the respect of his people. He could not show weakness, for to do so would invite war, and that would kill more than just his wife. His enemies had spies everywhere. What he was forced to do now was proof of that.
Lanaran turned from the bed and walked to the door, where he cast one last glance at his wife. He caught a glimpse of himself in the wall mirror, but looked away, disliking his drawn appearance – and was that a hint of grey creeping into his black hair? No, it couldn’t be. At thirty-one, he was far too young for that. He left the room and, without meeting their eyes, murmured to the guards outside, “You remember what we discussed.” It wasn’t a question. He knew that they knew. “The potion has worked. She will sleep for some time. Make sure no one sees you, and be quick about it.”
The two Guards of Ends, both of whom would be loyal to the end, Lanaran was sure, nodded almost imperceptibly.
Lanaran strode down the wide stone corridor and went to the royal lounge, which was always stocked with a choice variety of the best wines. Goodness knew, he needed a drink if he was to get through the night without sounding the alarm and sabotaging his own plans.
Lashlor Leaflin cursed as the icy wind blew out his lantern and he tripped over a branch. He stood up and patted himself down, then checked to make sure the small brown pouch was still attached to his belt. It was. His chest heaved in relief; he hadn’t come all this way after dark just to lose the herbs now. Everyone knew how dangerous the Jeltar Woods were at night. All manner of deadly creatures emerged once the sun set, ready to devour travellers, wary or otherwise.
Lashlor winced and squinted as the wind lashed his shoulder-length brown hair into his eyes. He waited for his eyes to adjust to the dark, then continued along the path, trying to make as little noise as possible – night creatures had far better hearing than day creatures. That was the only reason he had chosen to wear his uncomfortable leathers, which made him feel trapped they were so tight – his other clothes may catch on bushes or rustle, alerting the night creatures to his presence.
An indignant shriek somewhere nearby startled him, and he stumbled again. Sharp pain pierced his right thigh and he bit his tongue to prevent himself from crying out. It would draw night creatures like a drop of blood drew a lake monster. He felt his leg.
He’d stuck himself with his own arrow. Lashlor gritted his teeth and yanked it out, along with some flesh.
Of all the stupid…
The shriek came again, this time filled with terror. It sounded like a woman.
The wind whipped faint words to Lashlor.
“Unhand me, you oafs!”
“Just do as we say!” a male voice demanded gruffly.
“How dare you talk to me like-?”
The wind picked up, drowning out the rest. Lashlor hesitated, torn. The urge to keep walking and get out of the forest, to the safety of the city, was almost overpowering. However, like any decent man, he found himself unable to ignore a woman in trouble.
Lashlor hastened in the direction he thought the voices came from, stopping to listen when the woman screamed again. It was cut short this time, as if someone had placed a hand over her mouth. Moments later, he spotted them. Two men and a woman. The woman wore a nightdress with a royal blue robe draped around her, and both men were clothed in black.
He frowned. The woman looked familiar. That long black hair and pale oval face…
Queen Narraki Dragonsbane!
Kidnapped and to be held for ransom by those who would usurp the king’s throne, Lashlor assumed, judging by her dark mauve aura, which indicated fear.
He swung his bow off his shoulder, then pulled an arrow from the quiver on his back and drew it.
“Take your hands off her,” he commanded.
The two men glanced at each other, panic evident in their eyes, even in the dark.
“This is none of your business,” said the beefier of the two. “Don’t make us kill you. We don’t want to, but we won’t hesitate if you interfere. Now go.”
“Leaving now would be treason,” Lashlor growled. “And I’m no traitor.” He levelled the arrow at the man. “Now step away from the queen and maybe I will let you live.”
The thinner man nudged his friend and whispered something in his ear, gesturing to Lashlor, who smiled. He knew what they were talking about. The silver leaf-shaped pendant he wore around his neck – his wizard’s medallion, recognisable by the silver aura that surrounded it.
By law, all magic users had to wear one plainly visible to prevent unnecessary deaths by warning those who might be in the mood to pick a fight not to do so with anyone wearing a medallion. Too many drunken fools running around town. Lashlor thought it would have been better to just outlaw alcohol, but the king liked his wine too much for that to ever happen. At least the medallion looked cool, he thought. It was also nifty in that only a magic user could wear one. The only ones forged had a spell cast on them to ensure they would lethally reject any non-magical person who tried to wear one.
Lashlor was glad he was a wizard, however, or the medallion would have annoyed him, for every magic user’s medallion was called a ‘wizard’s medallion’ even if said magic users were not wizards. The medallion had been invented by a wizard, and the name was in honour of him. It would have been better named after him: ‘Sorlit’s medallion’ sounded so much better.
“You don’t understand,” the beefy one said, shifting his weight from one foot to the other.
“Not killing you is fast becoming an effort,” Lashlor said evenly. “And you should know I’m a lazy bugger.”
The other one said, “We are Guards of Ends – from the king’s personal guard. We’re doing this to protect the queen.”
“And never mind that,” the beefy one said, “we’re following the king’s orders!”
The queen spluttered. “You are not!”
“Yes, we are! I have a sealed, signed letter to you from the king, My Queen. There is no time to read it now, but I promise you will have a full explanation once we’re safe. The night creatures-”
As if on cue, a low growl came from the nearby bushes. A set of slanted yellow eyes glared at them from the foliage. Judging by the shape and small size of the eyes, it was a gabbertok… a young one, and, therefore, not much of a threat. If they ignored it, it would most likely either stay where it was or leave.
Lashlor turned back to the men. “Let me see the royal seal.”
The men hesitated.
“I won’t ask again.”
The thinner man fumbled in his satchel and produced a letter with a dark blue and silver seal – the royal colours. Lashlor stepped closer to examine the seal: a dragon’s head sliced in two by a crown. It was the Dragonsbane seal, all right.
The queen obviously knew it too, for she looked shocked and confused.
Another low growl came from the bushes.
Lashlor lowered his bow and replaced the arrow in its quiver. “Put that away and let’s get out of here.” He bowed to Queen Narraki. “My Queen. Can we assume the king is acting in your best interests?”
She hesitated, then nodded.
“Then may I escort you to ensure your safety? I would consider it a great honour.”
This time, she nodded without hesitation. “Yes, thank you.”
“Now, let’s get moving before-”
A deeper growl interrupted Lashlor, and he spun to face the sound. An adult gabbertok stood staring at them, salivating.
“Kill it, wizard,” the queen commanded.
Lashlor reached for his bow, but the queen’s incredulous voice froze his arm midway.
“What are you doing?”
“Preparing to kill it,” he said, without taking his eyes from the gabbertok.
Lashlor sensed the queen’s displeasure when she said, “I meant use magic. You’re taking a chance with my life… our lives… for what?”
“Magic should not be used unless there is no other way and the situation is life or death.”
“It is life or death!” The beefy Guard of Ends took a step back when the gabbertok took one closer.
“But there is another way.” Lashlor withdrew an arrow.
“Unbelievable,” the queen muttered.
“Wizard, please!” Beefy pleaded. “My wife is preg-!”
The gabbertok roared, a sound like no other, piercing yet deep, and utterly terrifying. It gave one last snarl – as if it had any hope of intimidating them more than it already had – then charged.
Lashlor nocked and released the arrow, but the great beast twisted aside in midair and the arrow flew harmlessly past. The gabbertok landed just short of them, glanced back to make sure its offspring was still okay, then turned and snarled, its sharp fangs glinting menacingly in the moonlight.
Standing beside Lashlor, Queen Narraki commanded, “Wizard, fulfil your promise to protect me.”
Lashlor loosed another arrow, this one hitting the gabbertok square in its left eye. It screeched, an unholy sound if he had ever heard one, then turned to race back to its young. The two charged into the bushes. She was trying to get the young gabbertok as far from the humans as possible, he knew, in the hopes they would not kill it too. Lashlor almost felt sorry for both – the little one, for its father would eat it without the mother around to prevent it, and the mother, for she would die within minutes.
Filled with sadness, Lashlor slung his bow over his shoulder again. “My Queen.” He bowed. “As always, at your service.” He straightened and looked at the Guards of Ends. “So what now?”
Queen Narraki turned on him. “What were you thinking?” Her eyes flashed with anger, yet her tone was even.
Lashlor shivered. “That my archery skills would save us.”
The queen eyed him and took a step back. “You aren’t one of those mad wizards, are you? The ones who get themselves killed by living in a fantasy world?”
Lashlor smiled. “No, My Queen, I am most certainly not.”
Wizard of Ends, Book 1 will be published at Smashwords tomorrow, and will be available for free download. If you enjoyed this sample, grab the book while it’s hot off the press!
Book 2 will also be available for pre-order from tomorrow. Pre-order your copy to take advantage of the great discount on the day of release.