Today’s tour host is Tracy Falbe, who will be sharing a guest post from me with three ancient Irish spells and charms. Enjoy!
As most of you already know, Wizard of Ends, Book 2: Dark Creature can be pre-ordered from iBooks and Barnes & Noble, and will be released at these retailers and Smashwords next week Thursday. Here’s a sneak peek.
Wizard of Ends, Book 2: Dark Creature
Bleak and foreboding, the Mountains of Eclador rose before the group of weary travellers, the darkening orange sky giving them a decidedly evil appearance. A flock of kreag, nasty birds of prey large enough to carry off a full-grown man, circled above the nearest peaks. Lashlor hoped the birds were not hungry. These mountains were cold and heartless, and showed mercy to no man or beast, and the kreag would show the travellers no mercy either if it was to ease their hunger. Exactly what made the mountains so deadly was unknown – it could be a lack of food or shelter in most parts, or the kreag or other vicious mountain animals, or it could be something more sinister. Lashlor just hoped that whatever it was, it wasn’t magical.
If they returned to exit the narrow canyon they were about to enter, they would be the first in recorded history to survive a trip into these mountains.
The sorceress they were going to see, Rune Arcana, was capable of seeing him safely home, Lashlor knew. However, he wasn’t so sure she would have the power to see thirty-six men and their horses safely out of the mountains. He supposed it depended on why exactly the mountains were so treacherous. He had told King Lanaran, but the king had refused to let him make the journey alone.
Then again, Rune might just spell his face rotten, as she had promised she would if she ever saw him again. She, like many others, had accused Lashlor of lying about being a wizard. Even at the vilest of provocations, he had refused to use his magic to prove himself honest. She had told him she would not marry a liar. He had told her he would not marry someone who thought he was a liar. The rest was history. He had checked up on Rune once or twice, not really sure why he bothered, and one of her cousins had told him about a year and a half ago that she had gone to live in the Mountains of Eclador and wanted to be left alone.
Lashlor’s thoughts turned to the herbs he still had secreted in his belt pouch. These particular herbs were only found in the Land of Ends. He had risked the dangers of the Jeltar Woods at night to get them, so he could return to his place of birth and right a wrong. He had wanted it over and done with, afraid he would lose his nerve and never return. Besides delaying his task, the delay caused by the journey to the Mountains of Eclador meant he would have to gather more herbs, for these would be dried out by the time they got back to Ends.
Lashlor was jolted from his reflections when Captain Amkesh, who rode a black stallion near the front, came to a stop. The captain turned his horse and drew up alongside Lashlor’s steed, a silver-grey mare.
“Are you sure about this?” Captain Amkesh frowned. “This place gives me the chills.”
“The chill in the air is only nature. Night will be upon us soon.”
Amkesh nodded, still frowning. “Maybe we should camp here for the night.”
“There are still two hours of daylight,” Lashlor said. “Two hours could mean the difference between life and death for Queen Narraki.”
Amkesh sighed. “You’re right, of course.” His back straightened and he ordered, “Move on!”
King Lanaran took a sip from his wine glass, then picked up his fork again and played with his food.
Sitting opposite Lanaran at the dining table, the broad-shouldered King Axim Winguard of Storher fixed sea green eyes on him. “I understand why you have no appetite, old friend, but you must force yourself to eat. You need your strength. Narraki needs your strength.”
Lanaran glared at his plate. “Maybe I will regain some of my appetite if Iaracella Tinletor’s pending execution draws out Thorona, as you suggested it might.”
“The family’s previous actions suggest that is exactly what will happen. Thorona will most certainly attempt to rescue her grandmother. Since the execution is first thing in the morning, expect some trouble tonight.” Axim grinned and raised his wine glass.
His friend’s usually infectious grin stirred no mirth in Lanaran now. “Yet still, it will not undo the curse on Narraki.”
“From what I’ve heard, your wizard will accomplish that.”
“He says he cannot.”
Axim swallowed a piece of steak. “He also said Assassa would kill him.”
Hope sparked in Lanaran. “He did, didn’t he?”
“And if he truly believed he could not help,” Axim pointed out, “he would not have risked journeying to the Mountains of Eclador.”
Some of the weight lifted from Lanaran’s shoulders. “Yes, you’re right, of course.”
“The old woman is well guarded?”
Lanaran nodded. “Triple the usual guards, plus more outside and patrolling the grounds.”
“What about the roof?”
“Also teeming with guards.”
“Eat, Lanaran, eat!” Axim bellowed, slapping the table and startling Lanaran into dropping his fork on the floor.
A servant hastened to pick it up, then turned to leave.
“Don’t bother with a new one.” Lanaran pushed back his plate. “And take this while you’re at it.”
The servant moved to comply, but Axim said, “Off with you, boy! Fetch that fork.”
To Lanaran’s annoyance, his servant obeyed his friend’s orders over his. “Count yourself lucky you’ve done me the favour of allowing my men to traipse through your kingdom to reach the Mountains of Eclador.”
Axim chuckled. “You asked me here to help you, but you did not specify how. You must eat or the sorceress has won regardless. You must eat, because, if you die of starvation, once Narraki is herself again, she will be all alone and filled with grief, and she might even hate you.”
Lanaran smiled. “Narraki is incapable of hatred.”
“And perhaps that is why, even as a beyeni, she did not try to harm you.”
“She was going to lick me. That would have-”
“Killed you?” Axim asked. “Yes, yes, but did she know that or was she merely being affectionate?”
The servant returned with a clean fork, and Lanaran thanked him, then pulled his plate back towards him, speared a carrot and raised it to his lips.
Axim took another sip of wine. “I was thinking, after the execution tomorrow, you and I should help the magic users search for information about undoing curses in the Great Library. The more people looking, the more chance we have of finding something in time.”
“I thought you said my wizard would handle that?” Lanaran asked, his tone more sarcastic than he’d intended.
“I have faith in him, but…”
Lanaran sighed. “But no one has ever returned from the Mountains of Eclador.”
The gloom thickened the further into the canyon Lashlor and the others rode, the steep walls blocking out most of what was left of the sunlight. Lashlor rode ahead with Captain Amkesh, scanning the skies every now and then for signs of kreag. It was said there had once been a map of the Mountains of Eclador, but, if it had existed, it had been lost so long ago that most people believed it to be a myth. The captain had forbidden everyone from unnecessary talking, so they would have a better chance of hearing if anything stalked them, hoping for an easy meal. It concerned him that the canyon formed a natural trap and there may be no escape if they were caught unawares.
“Tell me again how you will find this sorceress.”
Lashlor ran a hand through his shoulder-length brown hair. “I won’t lie you to. It won’t be easy. I will need to stop often and try to sense her aura trail. I felt it as we entered the canyon, so I can say for certain that she did, indeed, come this way. I did not sense her exiting, so she must still be here unless there is another way out.”
“This canyon is the only way in or out, from what I’ve heard.” Amkesh glanced back to check on his men. “That sounds easy enough. Why do you say it won’t be easy? Does it use a lot of energy?”
Lashlor shook his head. “No, not really. It’s just that many things could have erased her aura trail, including time. Plus, she uses her magic often, so the trail is weak to begin with and, therefore, easier to erode. It’s only because we… because I know her so well that I can still trace her now, all this time later.”
They rode in silence for a few minutes, then Amkesh asked, “What things could erase an aura trail?”
“Magic, for one. That’s what I’m the most worried about. Since Rune wants to be left alone, it’s quite possible she erased her trail at some point. If she did, it might not matter how well I know her.”
“Would she have been that paranoid?”
Lashlor shrugged. “You never know with Rune.”
Kings Lanaran and Axim sat side by side on a pile of fresh hay in the cell next to the one in which Iaracella Tinletor, Thorona’s grandmother, was imprisoned. They waited in silence in the early hours before dawn, hoping to surprise any would-be rescuers. The old woman’s cell was between them and that which held the beyeni – his queen. Lanaran shuddered, still unable to comprehend how the beast that snarled and spat at the guards through the cell bars could possibly be his beloved Narraki. It seemed none of her old nature remained, and, for the first time, he had seen hatred shining from her eyes. The glowing orange eyes of a creature of darkness. Another shudder racked him.
Axim shifted next to him. Unlike Lanaran, who enjoyed peace and quiet, Axim loved adventure and excitement, and the thought of a tussle with an enemy of Ends made him quite happy.
The guards changed shifts, in sets of three so the old woman would always have eyes on her. When the last shift change was over, Lanaran studied the faces of the guards he could see. All had been instructed to report anyone they didn’t recognise, but still… He knew all five guards within his line of vision, but it did not relax him.
Two wizards sat in the cell to their right, their pulses probably racing as fast as Lanaran’s. Perhaps the security was too tight, or too obvious, he thought. Nobody could get in here.
As if in mockery of his last thought, an explosion shattered the silence, and a cloud of smoke filled the dungeon. Something sizzled and the guards cried out in alarm.
Lanaran and Axim leapt up, drew their swords and raced into the smoke.
Thorona materialised in a flash of white light, wearing an inappropriately short white gown that ended halfway between her waist and knees. The cell that held Iaracella was open, and she hobbled towards her granddaughter.
The guards attacked, but their swords met an invisible barrier. Thorona ignored them.
“Do it!” Lanaran commanded the wizards.
They had anticipated that Thorona would shield herself magically if she tried to rescue her grandmother, and the wizards had prepared a spell that would work rather nicely with the help of a little hog sweat spray mixed with the right herbs.
The wizards sprayed the vile stuff on Thorona, who squealed in indignation at the stench.
“I will make you regret that,” she said, turning her attention to them as her grandmother reached her.