Vignettes Volume 02
Diane Lynn McGyver
Published by Quarter Castle Publishing at Shakespir
[email protected] Tibert
Almost five years has passed since Isla of Maura was kidnapped and Bronwyn Darrow left Maskil in search of her. In many ways, not much has happened; the inhabitants of the Land of Ath-o’Lea have continued their daily routine. But if you look deeper into the individual lives you’ll see much has changed in little ways.
The Castle Keeper vignettes provide a glimpse into the time between Shadows in the Stone and Scattered Stones. You’ll have already met many of the characters, but some you will meet in Scattered Stones.
These vignettes are not complete stories, only 300 words of a moment. Volume 01 contains the first twelve in a series of vignettes to be written.
This book was written using Canadian spelling.
Vignettes Volume 02
Diane Lynn McGyver
Lord Valmour ‘Val’ Elfren
Elf, lord of Aruam Castle, first appeared in chapter 05 of Shadows in the Stone
Spicy aromas filled Lord Valmour Elfren’s senses. His eyes squeezed shut, he imagined the kitchen of his youth spilling forth delectable foods that would carry him through his day. He reached for a long, narrow loaf of bread, twisted around itself and sprinkled with green spices and smelling of garlic.
The hunger sensation intensified, and he squeezed the bread tightly, searching for his siblings, who if they appeared would snatch it from his hands and run. He bit into the warm, fresh bread and savoured the taste. A sound startled him, and he held the bread tighter, squeezing it in his grip for fear it would be stolen.
Lord Val chewed feverishly, swallowed quickly, then took another bite of the bread motionless in his clutches. He held tighter as if the bread fought to escape. His breath quickened as he maintained the loaf at arm’s length. He would not release it. His eyes, still squeezed shut, began to burn. Liquid seeped through his closed lids and slid down his cheeks. His head swooned with effort, and he lost his balance, staggering sideways.
At the last moment, he opened his eyes and caught himself before falling. The sight before him froze him in place. A young elf, much like him in his youth, sprawled dead on the floor at his feet. The kitchen he had envisioned became a room in the Aruam Castle tower. Scattered across the floor were sheets of torn paper and what remained of book. A discarded dagger lay amongst the litter.
Lord Val thought to alert the guards, but a sharp pain caused him to stumble and clutch his side. When he regained his footing, he found blood on his hands. Had this man struck him, and if so, who had killed him and left him here?
Dwarf, sergeant with the Aruam Castle guard, on leave, first appeared in chapter 01 of Shadows in the Stone
Bronwyn Darrow laid the map flat on the large stone. His calloused finger traced the road from Wirksworth to Little Ram, stopping midway between the towns. In his mind, he thought of the distance from this point to his current location on Blue Mountain. If he continued south west, he’d intercept the trail to Glengarry Keep. Considering the rough terrain ahead, he estimated it would take five days. He’d know he was on the right path when he reached River Blue.
He glanced up at the sky. Clouds were moving in. He had to cover as much ground as possible before dark.
Although it had been risky to travel this far into uninhabited land, the venture paid off. He had found the hamlet of Drumclog Moss and met the prisoner who had been held at Blackvale for three years. The woman was released shortly after Isla had arrived, and she provided enough information to give Bronwyn hope. Isla was alive and unharmed. The woman had said the other prisoners gave her special care, but the terrified child wanted only the comforts of home.
Bronwyn folded the map and slipped it into his belt pouch. He fastened the bridle onto Sorrowsweet’s head and mounted. For once, he wished he was horse, or at least had the ability to graze. Sorrowsweet had plenty to eat at this low altitude, but the season and terrain provided little for a dwarf. He took a mental inventory of the food he carried. If he had one small meal each day, he’d have enough to reach the keep.
Two days later, Bronwyn stumbled from the saddle and towards red berries glistened in the sunshine. He fell to his knees and picked the strawberries feverishly, shoving them into his mouth. He had never tasted berries as sweet.
Elf, archivist at Aruam Castle, first appeared unnamed in chapter 14 of Shadows in the Stone
“The end is only the beginning of something great,” mumbled Alfwin Moonsmy, leaning upon the desk. He tilted his head and thought of the remaining lines. A fog clouded his memory as he peered across the archives. “The end is…no…the end begins with…” He dropped the book he held, and the loud bang shook him. “Apologies.”
The room lay empty. Who had jumped? He stood straight, grasped the book and prepared to return it to the shelf when he noticed a slight odour. Holding it to his nose, he smelt parsley or was it anise seed? A slight breeze circulated the air, diluting the smell further.
“The scullery maid.” That was it. She had paused on her journey to the next floor with snacks for him. He glanced around and found no food on the counter. “I must have eaten it.”
Alfwin placed the book on the proper shelf, then began for the counter. The site of the large bookcase containing perfectly bound books with blue covers stopped him. The books of magic glistened beneath his view. He saw what no one else had the privilege to see, not even the lords.
Placing an open hand gently across several volumes, he received their slight pulse and allowed it to freely travel throughout his body. These books were his books until his last breath, and then another guardian would protect them.
The image of an old scroll came to mind, and he glanced over it. “The end begins with a hauflin step, the passing of one breath, the delivery of two.” He smiled as he righted the backwards pendant hanging around his neck.
“Lilja, you are safe, and your return will be our triumph.”
Alfwin withdrew his hand, gawking around the empty room. His breath slowed, and his mind grew peaceful.
Dwarf, herbalist, dress maker, first appeared in chapter 11 of Shadows in the Stone
Rhiannon Darrow untied a bundle of chamomile from the drying rack and placed it in a cloth sack. She carried it downstairs to the small room behind the counter of the Forest Herb and Bakery shop and set it on the table. From the time she was young, she had spent many hours preparing herbs for sale. She could now identify dozens of plants by smell alone.
A bell rang, and Rhiannon looked up to see a familiar young dwarf enter the shop. Through her narrow path of sight, she watched Carbrey. He was handsome and charming, and he often came when she tended the counter.
Leaving the table, she emerged from hiding. “Carbrey, can I help you?”
He smiled. “Rhiannon, it is a pleasure to see you.”
She returned the smile. “The pleasure is mine.” Heat rose into her neck. “Your mum is in need of supplies?”
“A few.” He handed a list to her. “If you have the time.”
“It’s what I’m here for.” She glanced at the list of herbs and gathered them swiftly but not too quickly. When everything was packaged, she placed them in the leather pouch he had brought. “Tell your mum I said hello,” she said.
Carbrey paused, his hand on the pouch. He wanted to speak but instead released a slow breath. “Thank you. I will tell her.”
Rhiannon watched him leave. As he closed the door, he stole one last look, then walked away. An odd feeling surfaced in her chest.
“He won’t wait forever.”
Rhiannon jumped and found her mum, Maisie Darrow, standing behind her. She returned to the chamomile and began chopping it on the block. “He needn’t wait for me.”
“He admires you.”
“As much as I admire him, he fails to generate the feelings I seek.”
“Sometimes they need nurturing. Learn from your brother.”
She chuckled. “Alaura has what Bronwyn seeks.” A nagging question resurfaced, and she spoke it before her courage failed. “Mum, why did you encourage their relationship when she is not dwarf?”
A soft smile creased Maisie’s lips and a twinkle lit her eye. “It was my duty to discourage it, but”—a vulnerable expression dawned—“I could not deny them their heart’s desire. To do so would have condemned them to a life of misery.”
“And if I chose a man undwarf as a mate?” She held her breath; her destiny travelled a different path than her brother’s.
Her mum studied her as if a thousand years passed through her mind. When she spoke, her words weighed heavy. “We shall cross that bridge if it is in your future.”
Human, herbalist, first appeared in chapter 10 of Shadows in the Stone
Selina Burkenshaw slowly poured the steaming tea into the mug. The mug full, she returned the pot to the stove top. Scooping a dollop of honey from the jar, she stirred it gently into the hot liquid. Once sufficiently mixed, she drew the warm spoon over her tongue to taste the sweetness. She picked up the mug and turned to her mate.
Farlan remained in the same position since he entered their dwelling. He rested in the chair near the stove watching their first-born sleep. Their daughter—barely one year old—brought him much joy, but even she could not break the spell he appeared to be under since his return from patrol two days earlier. The outing was supposed to be five days, but it lasted ten. As usual, he couldn’t share details of the excursion, but the permanent grimace and the solemn mood spoke volumes. His lack of chatter also hinted at the worry teasing his mind. She hadn’t seen him this distraught since the inquest into Lady Glynn Dasia’s murder.
Selina had enquired at Moon Meadow, but Beathas of Ailsa and the apprentices had not heard word of a commotion that would cause alarm. Although she should have been studying the herb manual, she felt compelled to remain by her mate’s side. She placed a gentle hand on her abdomen. There were other important events in need of discussing before they revealed themselves.
Farlan looked up at her, a tortured expression colouring his face. He wet his lips as his gaze swept over her body, giving her a chill. When he spoke, his gentle voice was laced with determination. “I will never abandon you.”
An ache awakened in her chest. The idea had never inhabited her thoughts, so why did he feel the need to say this?
Dwarf, wheelwright, part owner of The Spoke ‘N Waggon shop, first appeared in chapter 11 of Shadows in the Stone
A boot sailed through the air in the dimly-lit tavern. Joris caught sight of it in time to lean back so only its wind brushed his nose. He embraced his mug of ale against his chest and looked for the origin of the projectile. He saw a woman glaring at him from twenty feet away. The young human beside her raced behind Joris, snatched his boot and sped off.
“Chloe.” Joris raised his mug. “You chose a green one. He won’t be back.”
“I chose an inconsiderate, deceitful rogue who is less appealing than the hind end of a troglodyte.”
He shrugged. “Didn’t know he was all that.”
Chloe marched to his table, slammed her palms down and leant into his face, scowling. “You said last night was the best you ever had.”
Joris grinned. “It was and tonight, I’m trying to better it.” He rested against the back of his chair, glanced over at the pretty woman sitting next to him, then turned his attention back to Chloe.
“Listen here, Joris Darrow,”—she grabbed him by the front of the shirt and held him firmly—“I’m not that easy to escape.” She pressed her lips to his and pushed him hard against the chair.
Joris blindly set the mug on the table and grabbed her shoulders. She exerted force until the chair toppled, taking them both with it. He rolled on top, straddled her and held her arms against the floor.
“Is that how you want it?” he said sternly.
Joris leapt up, grasped her hand and pulled her to her feet. He reached for the mug of ale, downed it in one gulp and set it on the table. “Next time.” He winked at his shocked companion and allowed Chloe to drag him out the door.
Isla of Maura
Hauflin, prisoner at Blackvale Castle, first appeared in chapter 01 of Shadows in the Stone
Isla outlined the military vest, pressing lightly so if the line had to be erased, it wouldn’t leave an indent in the paper. The curve of the shoulder was a difficult part. It took five attempts to get the other shoulder perfect. The black lead moved slowly as she imagined the sun shining on the top of the blue material. In the sunshine is where they had spent their happiest times, and here is where the lightest of touches would accent the glow. She shaded lightly, then used a finger to smudge the colour just right.
A short time later, Isla sat back to admire her efforts. The eyes of her das stared at her as if he would walk across the tower roof and tell her to get ready for bed; they had a busy day tomorrow. Perhaps they’d ride along the Shulie or take a hike to Moon Meadow. She’d ask if Liam could come.
She squeezed the pencil and her eyes fell upon his image. His smile created an ache in her belly that rose to her chest and into her throat. Tears threatened, but she knew they would not deliver her to her das or Liam. Swallowing hard, she gently set the tip of the pencil down on Liam’s chin and lightly touched it, shadowing the edge of his jaw with caressing strokes. Recalling the feel of his skin when he brushed against her settled her thumping heart. If she drew breath slowly, she could smell his scent. A smile creased her lips. The pencil added minor strands of hair around his ears, combing them into soft waves, the same she had done with her fingers when they sunned by the waterfall pool. Her imagination would spend the evening here, safe with the boy she loved.
Lord Laird Mulryan
Dwarf, lord of Aruam Castle, first appeared in chapter 05 of Shadows in the Stone
The sun shined in the window, and Lord Laird Mulryan leant on the sill looking over the grounds of Aruam Castle and Maskil. The morning has been pleasant; he had enjoyed the day’s first ration surrounded by those he loved most. The small gestures, smiles and friendly chatter left him feeling as if he were the luckiest man in Ath-o’Lea.
He sighed, already missing their company and longing to return, but two days were all he could muster to be away from his post. Significant matters needed tending; he had to put the order in for new recruits to bolster the lower ranks. The combined numbers of foot soldiers and castle guards was to be maintained at one thousand fighting men and from his calculations, they were severely deficient.
Movement on the outer wall walkway caught his attention: Lord Val was strolling, gazing into the forest. He wore only his regular clothing, leaving his robe behind as he ventured on his morning walk. Something peculiar in the manner the lord walked made Laird think he was ill. The usual lively steps had been replaced with a slow moping movement. Perhaps his night had been late and he had dealt with castle business.
Laird hoped he hadn’t missed anything important. The activity in the guardhouse appeared normal as he passed through on his way to his chamber. Surely if something was amiss he would have been informed immediately.
He returned his attention to Lord Val who sluggishly made his way towards the towers near the front gate. Laird respected the man, but disagreed with his logic on many days. Perhaps their differences were rooted in race. It was the obvious answer, but was it the truth? Other elves did not ignite an urgent feeling in his gut; why did this man?
Lord Merk Lindrum
Human, Lord of Blackvale Castle, sorcerer, first appeared in chapter 27 of Shadows in the Stone
The brush touched the canvas lightly, dabbing grey shadows on the undersides of fluffy clouds floating outside the window. Satisfied, Merk Lindrum turned his attention to the cat lounging on the sill. It also required more shadowing.
He glanced around the easel and scrutinized his pet; its white fur shined as it lay stretched in the sun, sleeping. A few strokes on canvas and it would be perfect. His fan brush gently stroked the watercolours together to create tiny hairs that stabbed into the shadow.
Next he added highlights to the diamonds in the red collar. His lover had bought it for her beloved pet; countless cats had worn it since, one replacing the other, hoping his mate would believe her pet had survived to see her return. A disturbance in his diaphragm stirred a familiar feeling, firing the acids in his stomach, and he gripped the brush until his knuckles turned white.
Merk rose slowly and went to the window. Below a slave carried a basket of potatoes on her hip. The elf strolled the courtyard as if she lived free. Elves…they were the bane of his existence. If not for them, he’d not warm his blankets alone. The cardoons had robbed him of life’s greatest pleasure.
He raised his hand, and the red ruby in his ring glinted in the sun. A simple twist of his fingers caused the bottom of the basket to collapse. The slave stopped and gawked at the spilt load. Even from this distance, he sensed the fear in her actions. The woman rushed to the well in the centre of the courtyard, snatched another basket and returned to retrieve her load. Nothing but a cardoon, he scoffed.
His lips broadened, and he returned to his painting, at ease, ready to continue his masterpiece.
Human, cartographer, born Maskil, lives Wandsworth, first appeared in the short story “Destiny Governed their Lives”.
Emerson Wheatcroft neatly scrolled the word Goshen near the circle representing the village on the map. He blew gently on the hide to quicken the drying time. It had taken him a fortnight to reach the labelling phase; the customer required it to be practical yet pleasant to the eye.
He rested in his chair and admired his artisanship. At this point—with the mountains, rivers and settlements dotting the landscape—he felt satisfied. The labelling was a mere detail, an important one, but one many people achieved successfully.
Other cartographers, however, were incapable of copying the miniature settlement scenes his hands created. Those wanting high quality, decorative maps came to him.
He dipped the pen lightly in the ink and held it over the bottle to release the drip. Poising the tip over the small town east of Goshen, he hesitated. The M was simple to write, a fancy scroll he had made a thousand times. Yet he paused, thinking of the town, his hometown. It had been years since he had departed, and he and his wife Kathleen felt no desire to return.
Softly, a familiar sensation rose in his chest as he remembered the streets of his youth. Inevitable, his memories delivered the face of his lost son. The first years were the toughest, and he fought the memories, hoping to ease the ache. Now, he welcomed them, remembering his son’s smile, his laugh and his free spirit. Rodney was his oldest boy, one who loved adventure and who would use a map like this to travel Ath-o’Lea.
A lump formed in his throat and a slight burning sensation on the back of his tongue brought water to his eyes. When he and Kathleen had left Maskil, it felt as though they lost two of their children.
Dwarf, sword fighter, prisoner at Blackvale Castle, born Glen Tosh, first appeared in Scattered Stones.
“Stop!” shouted the guard. “You can’t go in there!”
Kellyn ignored the quackpod and kept running. As she drew water from the well in the courtyard, she had seen Merk cross the open balcony and enter his study. He had been absent from Blackvale Castle for several days, and this was the first opportunity to inform him of the tragedy that had occurred to his favourite prisoner.
She reached the door, flung it open and raced inside. Merk stood admiring a painting on the far wall. He glanced in her direction but remained silent.
The castle guard tackled her to the floor before she could speak, knocking the wind from her lungs. Another guard jumped in to help subdue her.
Kellyn punched, kicked and scratched to break free but ultimately, she became pinned with her arms secured behind her back.
“Our apologies, My Lord,” said the guard, as he jerked her to her feet and placed his hand firmly over her mouth. “We’ll see that she’s punished for her disobedience.” He began dragging her away.
Kellyn clamped her teeth down onto the guard’s hand. He grunted and pulled free. “I need to speak with you!” she shouted.
Merk shrugged and returned to admire his painting.
“Your pet is dying!”
He shot her a deadly glare. “Halt!”
The guards stopped at the threshold.
He raised an eyebrow and looked to the side as if to contemplate her answer. “Release her.”
Kellyn wrenched her arms from their grip and scowled at them. “Check your ego at the door, dingleberries.”
“Leave us,” said Merk. The guards exited quickly, and he eyed Kellyn. “Dying in what way?”
“You haven’t noticed? It began before you left.”
Merk nodded reluctantly. “She seemed disturbed but…” He clasped his hands before him. “Tell me more.”
Lord Dirck Landis
Human, lord of Aruam Castle, first appeared in chapter 05 of Shadows in the Stone
The door slammed and Lord Dirck Landis jumped from his chair to see who had entered. Two of his senior guards dragged a prisoner into the room and tossed him against the wall.
“My Lord,” Corporal Franklin motioned towards the tattered elf sprawled on the floor. “He is suspected of using magic within the town walls.”
“It was ignite powder!” the young man shouted. “Harmless!”
“Witnesses claim otherwise,” said the guard.
“Three men watched you cast a spell to create the flame!” shot back the guard. “That’ll get you five years in the dungeon!”
The man cowered against the wall.
Dirck stood silently with arms crossed watching the exchange.
“Do you want me to throw him in the dungeon, My Lord?” asked the guard.
“I’ll take care of him,” said Dirck. “Have you completed the paperwork?”
The guard shook his head.
“That is your priority.” He ushered the guards out the door. Left alone with the prisoner, he sat in one of the chairs and studied him. After a long pause, he said, “What is your name?”
“Mullen, My Lord.”
“Did you use magic?”
“No, My Lord. I beg you to believe me.”
Dirck’s eyes softened and half a smile creased his lips. “It is not me you must convince, but with witnesses stating otherwise”—he tisked—“you’ll need witnesses of your own.”
“But I have none.”
The lord considered him. “Perhaps you are open to other options.” He stood and paced slowly before the man. “We’re always looking for men with your skills. It would be a shame to waste them in the dungeon.”
The elf sat up. “What are you offering?”
Dirck stopped and looked down at him. “A chance at glory instead of rotting in a cell. If you’re willing to accept a royal quest.”
If you enjoyed Castle Keepers Vignettes Volume 02 by Diane Lynn McGyver, please leave a review to tell others. Thank you.
About Diane Lynn McGyver
Diane Lynn McGyver grew up along the wild shores of Nova Scotia, Canada. She spent her summers running barefoot through the forest and sailing on the sea, and her winters building snow forts, skating and playing hockey. She began writing at an early age, filling Campfire Notebooks with tales based on her imagination and her adventures.
She currently dwells on a small homestead where she raises children, Toggenburg goats and heritage-breed chickens. Her work has appeared in more than a thousand publications since 1997.
She is the author of Shadows in the Stone (traditional adult fantasy), Pockets of Wildflowers, Twistmas – The Season for Love (both adult romance), Fowl Summer Nights (humour) and Nova Scotia – Life Near Water (anthology). The second book in the fantasy Castle Keepers series Scattered Stones is scheduled to launch May 6, 2016.
Other titles by Diane Lynn McGyver
[+ Shadows in the Stone+]
[+ Scattered Stones+] (Coming May 6, 2014)
[+ Pockets of Wildflowers+]
[+ Twistmas – The Season for Love+]
[+ Nova Scotia – Life Near Water+]
Castle Keeper Tales
[+ Blade of Truth+]
[+ Destiny Governed their Lives+]
The Castle Keepers Vignette Series
Connect with Diane Lynn McGyver
[+ Facebook Author Page+]
Copyright for Castle Keepers Vignettes Volume 02
This eBook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. It may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. Thank you for respecting the hard work of Diane Lynn McGyver.
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Cover Design: Diane Tibert
Editor: Diane Tibert
Text and Illustrations [email protected] Tibert
Scattered Stones – Chapter 01 Approach to the Dungeon
Book 2 in The Castle Keepers Series
Bronwyn Darrow wriggled beneath the stone wall. Twigs, dry leaves, spider webs and dirt collected on his clothing. As he snaked forward, the hilt of his sword snagged on a tree root. He retreated far enough to jerk it free, then continued. An average-size human couldn’t fit through the shallow slit, but Bronwyn, a lean dwarf, slithered through easily. The hidden gap was also too dark for human eyes, but the dappled light of the waxing crescent moon shining into the passage at both ends provided enough brightness to guide the dwarf.
As he dragged himself towards the opening on the other side, he reviewed his plan: break into the dungeon, find his daughter and escape alive. The last part served as his good luck charm, insurance he’d see another sunrise. It hadn’t always been this way, but he had lived without the comforts and the protection of Aruam Castle for more than five years.
Five years was a long time to travel The Trail, searching and keeping alive the hope he’d find his daughter. From one aspect, time had passed quickly. Months slipped by as he pursued leads, explored new lands and fostered alliances in the diverse settlements dotting Ath-o’Lea. The valuable connections meant dozens of others kept watch for signs, sightings and news of Isla, his adopted daughter. They spread throughout the land, and whenever he entered a village, town or city, his contacts supplied updates.
But from another perspective, the five years had elapsed at an agonizing pace. He had made friends along the way but none he travelled with for long. On The Trail, company came and went as individuals chased their own vocation and inspiration. His visits to see family and friends had been few. When he discovered on his first return home the woman he loved had departed, it shook him to the bone. Alaura of Niamh had sought to join him in his search for Isla, but he had forbidden her, hoping she’d remain safe at Maskil. Her actions proved him wrong. She had left the same day as he had. If only he had known she would begin her own search, he’d have allowed her to accompany him. But now, the ifs and would haves amounted to nothing; Alaura had disappeared and become as impossible to find as Isla.
When Bronwyn found Alaura, he’d beg for her forgiveness. He carried no doubt she lived; her energy pulsated through his blood, delivered to him by the Transfer Spell, an incantation cast on their first quest together. Alaura could send objects small enough to fit into her palm directly to Bronwyn’s hand using the magic bridge. Bronwyn lacked magic, so he could send nothing. Still the spell furnished him unknown capabilities, including the power to feel her energy when he searched for it.
Unfortunately, wicked magic held in Bronwyn’s right hand transferred to Alaura. It had the capacity to steal her strength and make her ill. Whenever he encountered a mysterious item he believed possessed magic, he touched it cautiously. If he felt opposing pressure, he knew Alaura mentally forced the item from his hand. He obeyed instantly.
Since parting, Alaura had used the Transfer Spell once. His desperate state had spurred her into action. He had been lost for weeks on Blue Mountain and had exhausted his food supply. After three days with nothing to eat, he put his hand over his stomach, the same hand connecting him to Alaura. His stomach felt hollow, and a deep grumbling told him if he didn’t find food soon, he’d feel the ill effects of starvation. To his surprise, his hand warmed, and a full plate of food materialized. No sooner had he set down the ration when other foods appeared: bread, biscuits, apples, pears, green cheese, salted meat, cookies, canned beans, water, tea and his favourite bread-topper, fenberry spread. Alaura had delivered enough food to sustain him until he found his way off the mountain.
Through her energy vibes, the food delivery and the occasional magical item rejection, he knew Alaura to be alive and well. The question he couldn’t answer haunted him night and day: Where was she?
Bronwyn swept these thoughts from his mind to focus on the task ahead. With skill and luck, in a few hours he and Isla would be on their way to safety. His informant had confirmed the rumours and provided additional information. The transfer of prisoners from another castle to the one he prepared to enter had taken place today. A seventeen-year-old hauflin arrived with the prisoners. Bronwyn had paid a fair price for the information, but he’d have paid triple to rescue his daughter from five years of captivity.
The moonlight shined down on Bronwyn’s face as he peered from the slit beneath the outer defence wall. He had visited Tigh Na Mare only once, but he had entered through the front gates on that occasion. Tonight, with a little help from another informant, Jack Somerled, he would penetrate the castle undetected through an entrance guarded by secrecy. Don’t get caught, Somerled had warned.
Getting caught meant a fate worse than death. The female warriors who ruled the castle gave no mercy to men who crossed their lines. Four decades beforehand, the army of human women had forcibly taken the ancient Tigh Na Mare Castle overlooking Ellswire Harbour. Their ruler, a brute named Lord Orenda Nassen, had ignored Bronwyn’s request for assistance in finding Isla. To add insult to his rejection, she forced him to strip to his shorts and carry his possessions while he walked through the castle and the small settlement to the village gates. Along the way, the inhabitants taunted him with words and sticks, testing his self-control to remain calm.
Bronwyn slipped from the weed-covered hole, glanced to confirm the guards on the wall patrolled a safe distance away, then moved towards an inside corner of the castle. There, beneath the west tower, lay the steel grate the informant had spoken about. Bronwyn surveyed the area. This location put patrolling guards at a disadvantage because they could see only a small portion of this section of wall, making it the perfect spot to enter the castle unseen. He lifted the grate, slipped inside the tunnel and pulled the screen back into position.
Turning to face the narrow passageway, Bronwyn paused, allowing his eyes time to adjust to the dimmer conditions. It will darken enough to blind you, Somerled had said, but if your feet keep to the left, you’ll find your way. Upon approach to the dungeon, the torch light seeping through the cracks in the wall will illuminate your target. Bronwyn trusted Somerled. He met the human shortly after his search for Isla had begun and maybe two dozen times since. Somerled travelled The Trail too, but not for the same reasons as Bronwyn.
Tiptoeing forward, he became blind as darkness swallowed the passageway. He placed his hand on the left wall and let it guide him, taking each step with care to avoid making unnecessary sounds. Seeing a dim light ahead, he crouched low and continued. The concealed passageway ended near what Lord Orenda Nassen and her warriors called the Entertainment Room. There, unwelcome guests such as Bronwyn would feel their wrath. Given the lateness of the day, the room probably sat empty.
A soft thud stopped Bronwyn in mid step. He looked towards the grated entrance but saw nothing in the pitch black. Had a guard on the wall spotted him as he entered the castle? Or did another intruder use the secret entrance this evening? He crept forward, searching for a place to hide and discovered another tunnel and stepped inside.
Bronwyn clutched a dagger, ready to strike if necessary. If a guard discovered him, he needed to act swiftly. A scream, a shout or the slightest sound of a struggle could alert others. He held his breath and listened for the soft footsteps on the stone floor. He couldn’t guess the distance. The stealth prowler moved silently.
The intruder paused near the second tunnel entrance, and Bronwyn spied on the silhouette from the shadows. It was a male dwarf, not a guard. He recognised the pattern on the scabbard illuminated by a shaft of light but couldn’t place it. The intruder peered into the passageway. Bronwyn felt he stared directly at him but knew better—he crouched in complete darkness.
Bronwyn had a better look at the face and couldn’t believe his eyes. Impossible! What was he doing here? Could he be trusted? Bronwyn wondered what to do next. After an evaluation of what could happen with two break-ins occurring at the same time, he made a decision.
“Tam,” whispered Bronwyn. The swift movements of the dwarf with his weapon urged him to speak louder. “It’s Bronwyn. I mean no harm.”
Tam Mulryan gripped his dagger. “Bronwyn Darrow?”
Bronwyn stepped into the glimmer of light. “I can’t believe my eyes. We thought you were dead.”
“It’s what many believe.” Tam sheathed his dagger.
“Why are you here?” He watched him struggle to impart the information. They couldn’t be here for the same reason: to rescue Isla. Although Tam had participated in the kidnapping of Bronwyn’s daughter, he wouldn’t have spent five years searching for her. To him, she was only a twelve-year-old girl tangled in a shady deal by her blood sire.
Bronwyn heard pain in Tam’s voice. So the guess he made many years beforehand proved correct. Tam must have agreed to steal Isla in order to free his sister. Now, five years later, he still fought to gain her freedom. “Was she transferred with the prisoners today?”
Tam nodded. “And you? What brings the honourable Sergeant Darrow to Tigh Na Mare?”
Bronwyn swallowed hard. Since losing Isla, he hadn’t felt so honourable. He had done things over the years he wanted to forget. Trail life was different from life at Maskil. Incidents he had no control over drove him to choose between being honourable and living. “Isla. She’s amongst the prisoners.”
“Isla?” Tam appeared confused. “You failed to rescue her that day in the mountains?”
Tam gazed into the darkness of the passageway. “I didn’t know. I had slept a long time in the trunk of that tree. After I broke free, I drifted. I thought for sure she was safe.”
“She’s here.” Bronwyn pointed towards the dungeon. “If I’m right, I’m within a hundred feet of rescuing her tonight. And your sister. We’ll get them both.” Bronwyn stuck out his hand. “Together?”
Tam eyed him. Bronwyn thought he might walk away and continue to look out for himself, as life on The Trail had taught him.
“We’ll get them both.” Tam grabbed the hand and shook it. “But we follow the rule—if one of us falls, the other takes the women and doesn’t look back. Their freedom is what we seek.”
An explosion shook the walls. Bronwyn and Tam dropped to the floor. Pieces of loose rock and dust fell from the ceiling and clouded the dim light. When the rumbling stopped, the sound of earnest voices echoed throughout the castle and seeped in from the grated entrance. Bronwyn motioned Tam towards the dungeon. Regardless of the turmoil erupting in the castle, he wasn’t leaving without Isla.
[ * NEW SCENE * ]
The guard at the village gate escorted Morrigan Fae of Moonsface towards Tigh Na Mare Castle to meet with Lord Orenda Nassen. The elf wanted to purchase a slave and heard a shipment had arrived earlier in the day. Morrigan was a woodsman species, the sort who preferred the forests to civilized accommodations, and his clothing, a mix of browns and greens, reflected this. His earth-coloured brown hair, tied into a single braid, almost reached his trousers. He appeared lean for an elf but of average height. The female guard who escorted him measured more than a foot taller.
“A fair evening.” Morrigan broke the silence between them. His quick pace kept him abreast of the female’s long strides.
“If you like this sort of evening.” The guard eyed the elf. She looked big enough to tackle the visitor with one hand and guzzle a mug of rum in the other.
Morrigan decided small talk wouldn’t help make the task which lay ahead easier. He knew the philosophy of the female warriors who ruled and occupied Tigh Na Mare; they reigned—men served one purpose and once sufficiently exploited, discarded. The human women preferred human males only for procreation. This kept their bloodlines pure. They tolerated male visitors of other races for business and nothing more.
The elf understood the fine line he walked. He needed to appear friendly while maintaining a tenor of equality and respect. A wrong move could end his life or thrust him into slavery. Over the years, Morrigan had learnt male human prisoners from Tigh Na Mare were exchanged for female prisoners at Blackvale Castle. The human females remained at Tigh Na Mare and disciplined in the warrior ways. Those of other races were sold as slaves or sold for inflated prices to those who sought their freedom.
Tonight Morrigan sought a special slave, one he had hunted for more than five years. He had to keep his wits about him and not let his feelings for this woman reveal his true intentions. If they did, it might cost him his life.
The Tigh Na Mare guard stopped at the castle gates, received the required clearance, then continued in silence. She led Morrigan Fae down a long hallway and to the throne room.
One of the two guards at the entrance to the room stepped in front of the visitor. “State your name and business?”
“Morrigan Fae of Moonsface. I’ve received notification slaves have arrived and if I wanted the pick of the bunch, I should act in haste.”
The burly guard grunted and stepped aside. “With a face like yours, I can see why you’d need to buy a woman.”
If Morrigan didn’t have excellent hearing, he’d have missed the rude comment. He smiled, pretending not to hear the criticism, and followed the guard inside.
Lord Orenda Nassen rested upon an elegant marble throne held aloft by a raised oval platform at the opposite end of the room. Stone curls, symbolic of waves crashing upon the coastline overlooked by the castle, adorned the dais. Behind the throne, a mammoth wave of black stone soared twenty feet into the air and erupted with three dolphins riding the crest and sheltering the lord below.
Morrigan had appreciated the meticulously carved figures since his first visit three years beforehand. The ornate throne held the commanding position in the otherwise sparsely decorated room. With the absence of chairs, loyal subjects and visitors had to stand and gaze up towards the throne. A row of windows to the left and right emitted enough sunlight to illuminate the room but on dark nights as this one, dozens of wall torches provided the light.
Morrigan knew the throne room to be an exception. Ornaments, weapons and furniture filled other areas he had entered, but most visitors saw only this room, a cavernous shell that implied Lord Orenda Nassen and her fugal warriors had nothing to steal.
This evening, several dozen warriors and servants surrounded Lord Nassen. The tall, lean human wore an elegant yellow silk blouse with long sleeves, deep burgundy trousers and a black cloak. A collar of silver chainmail hung loose around her neck and dipped between her breasts. A long sword hung at her left hip. Three sheathed daggers adorned her right side. She appeared battle ready.
Orenda Nassen scrutinized the visitor, and Morrigan felt the force behind the lord’s pale green eyes probe his mind and search his life force for ulterior motives. The elf tightened his defences, preventing attempts by the lord to breach his outer perimeter. A shallow smile caressed her lips, and Morrigan knew the lord sensed his actions. The wise and crafty Orenda chose to associate with like-minded individuals.
“Morrigan Fae of Moonsface…always a delight to do business with you.” Lord Orenda Nassen signalled the elf to approach. “What are you in the market for this evening?”
“Lord Nassen, I received notification of a new shipment of slaves.” Morrigan chose his words carefully. He had to appear indifferent though he wished to storm the dungeon, find the woman he loved and escape.
“Your information is correct and you are eager.” She motioned for a drink, and a servant handed her a mug of rum.
“I intend to leave for Wardlow at first light. When I learnt of the shipment, I put business before pleasure.”
Lord Nassen smiled. “Do you have sufficient coin to barter for a slave?” When Morrigan nodded, she summoned a scribe. “What do you seek in a woman slave? Beauty? Strength? Courage? Or just obedience? Do you desire an elf or another race?”
“I seek a hardy slave, one who’ll survive the rugged conditions in which I live. She must be small enough to gain entry into places I am too large to access. She must be crafty and if not handy with a weapon, possess the ability to learn. I prefer a youth, one still vulnerable to manipulation.” Morrigan eased his stance. “I wish to view the slave before any decision is finalized. I reserve the right to reject a slave who is missing a limb, appears diseased or ill. If I feel I’m able to heal the slave and choose to take her, I expect a reduced price.”
“Young. Healthy. Small.” Lord Nassen spoke to the scribe. “Hauflins arrived in the transfer. What are their ages?”
The slim female skimmed the list of prisoners. “Fifty-three, twenty-one and seventeen, My Lord.”
“Bring the two youngest to me.”
Morrigan drew a shallow breath as he watched the warrior exit the room. This was a business transaction. If Lord Nassen thought otherwise, she’d throw him in the dungeon and charge him with deception. He’d lose the opportunity to gain the hauflin’s freedom.
“What takes you to Wardlow?” Lord Nassen raised the mug of rum to her lips and eyed the elf.
Morrigan forced a smile. “Pleasure, of course, as business always is.”
“And your plan is to take immediate charge of the slave; she’s to go with you?”
Morrigan nodded. “An extra set of eyes and ears will aid my profession.” As far as the lord knew, he dealt in underhanded transactions, ones that brought profit him alone. If she knew his true vocation, she might execute him on the spot.
An explosion shook the walls. Morrigan dived for cover. Peering through the falling debris and dust, he watched Lord Orenda Nassen leap to her feet and draw her sword.
“Guards! Find the source!” She glared down at Morrigan Fae. “Return at first light to complete the trade.” She motioned to two warriors. “Remove him from Tigh Na Mare!”
The warriors grappled the elf’s arms and propelled him forward. Morrigan glanced about to find the cause of the explosion. Warriors sprinted from one entry to another, searching the inside of the castle and the grounds. Morrigan heard shouting on the western wall, but he failed to see the reason as his escorts thrust him towards the village gates.
“His weapons!” shouted one of the escorting warriors to the entry guards.
Before Morrigan could speak or strap on his scabbard, he landed with a thud on the rough ground. The heavy village gates slammed shut, leaving him to the darkness of the barren land. He gathered his weapons and searched for his pony. The animal waited near the gate where he had left it. After strapping on his weapons, he mounted.
Morrigan rode away from Tigh Na Mare, treating the expulsion as business as usual. He knew the guards at the gate towers watched him. As soon as he reached the forest and travelled out of their sight, he’d double back and learn what had caused the explosion.
…Scattered Stones available May 6, 2016
Almost five years has passed since Isla of Maura was kidnapped and Bronwyn Darrow left Maskil in search of her. In many ways, not much has happened; the inhabitants of the Land of Ath-o’Lea have continued their daily routine. But if you look deeper into the individual lives you’ll see much has changed in little ways. The Castle Keeper vignettes provide a glimpse into the time between "Shadows in the Stone" and "Scattered Stones". You’ll have already met many of the characters, but some you will meet in "Scattered Stones". These vignettes are not complete stories, only 300 words of a moment. Volume 02 contains Vignettes 13 to 24.