Here is an excerpt from my new book Kingstone. It is taken from the first chapter, I hope you enjoy it!
CHAPTER 1: A BIRTHDAY TO REMEMBER
As the sun began its early morning ascent above the mountains, the small village of Anibar was bathed in a warm golden light and the surface of the lake at the bottom of the valley, around which the town was built, shone like pale glass.
A bell set in the tower of the town hall on the banks of the lake glowed golden and bright as it had done every clear morning for the last couple of centuries. From amongst the trees which grew upon the slopes of the surrounding mountains came the call of birds, welcoming the new day with their songs.
The town of Anibar began to stir as the golden light spread over it. Somewhere a rooster crowed, a dog barked, and chased a cat which had lazily wandered within its reach, and then for a moment there was silence. Anibar took one last reluctant breath as if in protestation of the activity which would fill its peaceful valley within the next hour. And then the town began to awaken.
From the window of one of the many log huts which populated the valley floor peered the face of a young boy who gazed expectantly up at the sky, impatiently awaiting the dawn. He had been at his post even before the rooster crowed, waiting and watching. The very moment the golden rays of light touched his face he left the window, leaping over the simple straw mattress which was his bed, and rushed across the room to fling himself onto the sleeping forms of his parents.
“Mother! Father!” he shouted, bouncing up and down on the bed, barely able to contain his excitement. “It’s morning. It’s time to get up!”
Now the reason for the excitement of this particular young boy was the fact that it just so happened that that particular day was his eighth birthday. Even more exciting than that, if it can be believed that anything could be, was the fact that his father, Gilron, had promised to take him along on one of his hunting trips upon his reaching that particular age. Ever since he could remember he had wanted to accompany his father on one of his hunting “adventures”, as he called them, and to experience the world beyond the boundaries of the valley in which he had lived for as long as he could remember. Now, that day had arrived, after more waiting than he had thought he would be able to bear, and his chance had come.
“Elross, I’m so tired,” murmured his mother, drawing the blanket more closely around her, “Couldn’t you just leave us be for a few minutes.” She proceeded to run a hand through her long, dark hair which was only just beginning to show the first signs of greying, and sighed as one may after having been disturbed from a peaceful sleep.
Elross’ face fell. “But don’t you know what day it is?” he questioned, with a lump forming in his throat at the thought of the possibility that his birthday had been forgotten. Yet had they not spoken of his coming birthday almost every day during the last couple of weeks? And had his mother not kissed him goodnight, saying that she would see him in the morning when he was no longer seven, but eight? His mother must have still been half asleep.
When there was no immediate response he put the same question to his father who by this time was sitting up in bed with his back against the wall, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. “Father. Father!” he pleaded as he took his father by the arm and attempted to drag him out of bed. “Don’t you know what day it is?”
Gilron rubbed his eyes again and yawned, “From the way you’re acting I’d guess it must be an important one.” He climbed out of bed and ruffled Elross’ thick, dark hair. “Miria,” he addressed his wife with a quick wink which was missed by Elross. “Is there anything particularly special about today? Elross seems to think so, but I can’t seem to recall.”
Elross’ mother sat up in the bed, and placing a finger to her lips looked up toward the ceiling as if in deep thought. “I seem to remember something.”
For several heart stopping moments she remained this way before an amused expression touched her face and she leaned over the side of the bed, apparently searching for something.
“Now where has it gotten to?” she murmured. “Ah, here it is.”
With that, she turned back to face them and in her hands she held a large square package wrapped in brown paper. She handed it to Gilron who weighed it in his hands before passing it to Elross, who ran his fingers along the rough brown parchment and the frayed piece of string, which was wrapped around it, in silent anticipation.
“Go on,” Miria urged him, climbing out of the bed and placing a hand on his shoulder, “What are you waiting for?”
Elross did not need to be told twice and fumbled once with the string before he had it off and the crumbled paper fell to the floor. In his hands was a large leather travelling pack, complete with buckles and at least two or three extra pockets, the result of several late nights work on the part of both his mother and father.
“Happy Birthday son!” they exclaimed in unison, as he thread his arms through the shoulder straps to try it on for size. “Thank you mother. Thank you father.” The excited boy replied, “It fits perfectly.”
As he embraced both of them with love and gratitude Gilron laughed a deep rumbling laugh, “Did you really think that we had forgotten your birthday?”
“Especially when you reminded us of it every day for the last couple of weeks,” Miria added.
Elross did not reply, for he was too distracted by his new present to remember his doubt of only a few minutes ago.
A special birthday breakfast soon followed with jam toast, various fruits, cakes, and several other things which were not frequent visitors to their small dining table. When they had finished eating, Gilron pushed back his chair and a strange smile lit his face. For a moment he sat staring down at the table in an absent minded way. Then he cleared his throat.
“Your mother and I,” he began, then cleared his throat again, “Have talked it over and have agreed that now you are eight years old…”
He paused as Miria came to stand behind him and smiled.
“We have decided,” he continued, “That you are now old enough to accompany me on some of my hunting trips. And it seems to me that another trip is in order. What do you say about today?”
Elross, from the beginning of his father’s speech had guessed what was about to be said and his excitement had grown within him until suddenly, he could contain it no longer. He leapt up from his chair, caught his mother by the arm and danced around the room, shouting at the top of his lungs. “I’m going hunting. I’m going to go on an adventure. Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you!”
All during this display Gilron sat back in his chair and his bellowing laughter filled their small house.
It was not long before, with the help of his mother, Elross’ pack was filled with all the things, (and perhaps a little more), that he would need for several days away from home. Late that morning found Elross and Gilron bidding Miria farewell at the door of their home and soon they were off. Passing the small blacksmith forge beside their house where Gilron practiced his trade they stepped onto the road, and there did their journey begin.
With a final wave to Miria and a call from Gilron that with Elross’ help he would bring back an even bigger deer than last time, they turned toward the centre of the village and the northern mountains beyond, which they would have to cross to reach the ancient Amirin Forest that lay behind.
As they passed through the centre of Anibar they received various greetings of good morning and of a happy birthday to Elross, who when asked where they were going would proudly reply that he was off on his very first hunting trip, much to the envy of his many young friends.
It was a wondrously clear day with barely a cloud in the sky. The path took them up, out of the valley and zigzagged up the sides of the sloping mountains. It then led them into a tunnel in the rock which took them straight through the mountains to a high rocky ledge, which overlooked a vast sea of waving green treetops, the trees of the Amirin Forest. Elross gazed down at it speechless, for never had he seen what lay beyond the valley of Anibar, nor had he seen such a sight as the mighty Amirin.
It was late in the afternoon when they reached the forest floor, having followed a series of steps carved into the mountain side, and beneath the trees of that ancient forest the bright sky above was hidden and the air was cool and moist. Elross felt as if they had stepped into another world as they journeyed along the thin forest path, with the gnarled tree trunks standing like the pillars of some ancient hall on either side, stretching as far as they could see, all bathed in a pale greenish light.
They made camp in a clearing and, as the light began to fade, Gilron built a small fire, just as much for warmth as for protection from wild beasts. As they sat beside the fire, staring into the dancing flames, a gentle breeze rustled the leaves above them and it seemed to Elross that the trees were whispering secrets to one another. He even fancied, once or twice that he heard voices mixed within the rustling leaves. But if they really were voices they spoke in a language which was strange to him.
“Father,” he said, “Do elves live in this forest?”
“What put a silly thought like that in your head?” Gilron chuckled.
“Well, Al and Ol said that their father thought he saw one in these parts when he was out hunting” was the reply, “They said, like in the old stories, elves are ancient trees which are under an enchantment. They said that they came to life and hide among the trees, waiting for travellers, and when the travellers come they sing beautiful songs to lure the people to them, and then they catch them and eat them.”
As he spoke, Elross’ eyes grew wide, almost in fear, and he gazed around at the silent trees which surrounded the clearing as if there might be elves hiding among them, ready to leap out at any moment. Gilron only chuckled, “There’s no need to worry about being carried off by elves in the night.”
“Simply because those treeish monsters do not exist.”
“But Al and Ol’s father said…”
“Now who do you trust more?” Gilron questioned with a twinkle in his eyes, “The word of Alon the baker, who to my knowledge has been into the forest hunting but once, and is so timid that he has been known to start at the sight of his own shadow? Or the word of your own father who has been hunting and walking in this forest enough times to know that there are no such things as elves?
“They’re only myths and stories. Think of them alongside the dragons whose fighting in the sky is said to cause the sound of thunder and flashes of lightning, or any number of the other fantastical creatures from the bedtime stories I used to tell you when you were a wee lad.”
“Which reminds me…,” he added, picking up his travelling pack from where it sat by his feet and rummaging through it. “It’s almost time for bed,” he continued, lifting a small bundle out of it, “But your birthday is not quite over yet.”
With that, he passed the bundle to Elross who weighed it in his hand, his eyes once again grown wide, but this time not with fear but surprise. Surely the object which he held in his hand could not be another birthday present. He had never received more than one gift on his birthday before, mainly because his parents had not been able to afford it, but he had never minded.
Without allowing another moment to pass he unwrapped the bundle and saw, there in the light of the fire, a glint of silver. The cloth fell away and in his hand was a small hunting knife. The blade shone brightly and the edge was keen; it was obviously yet to see use and the hilt was wrapped in brown leather which showed no signs of wear.
“Did you make this?” he questioned, almost unable to find the words.
“That I did,” Gilron smiled, grateful to see his handiwork appreciated.
“Thank you,” Elross added simply, finding it difficult to express his gratitude.
“You’re most welcome,” his father replied but then his face grew serious, “Now listen Elross, and remember this. This knife is not a toy, and it isn’t a weapon and should not be used as such. It is a tool and should be used wisely and with care.” Elross nodded in agreement, “And,” Gilron continued with a slight chuckle, “If all goes well tomorrow it shall be used for the skinning of the largest deer you’ve ever seen.”
“But now,” he added, looking up through the clear patch among the trees above their heads, up at the moon and starry sky, “It’s time for bed.”
Elross soon found himself curled up under his blanket, with his back to their campfire. Gilron, was on the other side of him, near to the boulder which provided them some shelter from the cool breeze which drifted along through the trees like the breath of the forest, and he gradually began to snore. Try as he might, Elross could not seem to get to sleep. He tossed and turned and listened to the sounds of the night, the crackling of the fire behind him, his father’s heavy breathing beside him and the rustling of the leaves all around him.
The moon was full that night and its pale light reached down even between the trees, to the forest floor where it cast strange shadows. Suddenly, Elross heard an unusually loud rustling in the trees above and he sat up at once and looked around.
The shadowy limbs and trunks of the trees seemed to have taken on an almost sinister appearance, and from his imagination grew the shapes of tree-like elves, hiding amongst the trees to sing their enchanted songs and lure him into their deadly embrace.
For some time he sat silently gazing into the shadowy darkness, barely daring to breathe or move and his heart pounded in his chest. But gradually his eyes began to droop and hearing no more noises he lay back down and fell into a troubled sleep filled with strange dreams in which elves and other terrifying creatures chased him through the forest.
Sometime later he was roused by the snapping of a twig. He opened his eyes reluctantly and was just about to roll over to see if a stick had fallen out of the fire when he stopped, frozen. Atop the boulder, overlooking himself and his father were a pair of glowing green eyes. Among the patches of dappled moonlight which filtered through the trees, the body of the creature to which the eyes belonged was only just visible, but Elross could see enough to know what it was.
“Thylacine.” He whispered to his father, too frightened to move or raise his voice.
He had recognised the creature from the almost identical head which was mounted above the main door of the inn in Anibar. The same wolf-like head, yet it was not a wolf. The same brownish-orange coloured fur. The same thin cat-like body and tail, covered in dark stripes, as appeared in the stories the innkeeper told about the creature whose head now hung above his door. The very same creature who had taken the arm of one of its hunters before it was barely subdued and killed by six men.
“Thylacine.” Elross repeated, louder this time, crawling over to his sleeping father and shaking him awake. As Gilron stirred, the creature upon the rock, which was larger than a wolf and stood almost as tall as a small bear let out a low growl and opened its mouth to reveal razor sharp teeth which gleamed like pale bones in the moonlight.
At the sound of its growl Gilron was at once wide awake and leapt to his feet, scooping up his bow and knocking an arrow in one fluent motion. “Stay behind me,” he whispered, keeping his bow trained on the Thylacine which stood watching them, its tail swinging back and forth between its back legs menacingly. “And when I say,” he continued, “Run to the fire and grab a burning branch. Only get one shot…no use running…they can climb trees. If I miss, the fire might keep it away.”
Slowly, Elross stood up, but almost at once he was frozen with fear and felt he would not be able to move when the time came. “Ready?” Gilron growled between his teeth. The Thylacine arched its back, ready to spring, and then several things happened at once.
In one bounding leap the Thylacine sprang forward through the air with a deafening roar. Gilron released his arrow with a soft twang, but so fast did the creature move that the arrow sailed off harmlessly into the night. Elross heard Gilron shout for him to run, and his feet became unfrozen and he dashed to the fire to scoop up a burning branch. But when he turned around, what courage he had had left him.
The Thylacine had not leapt directly at Gilron but over him and now stood, snarling and pacing back and forth, between him and his son. It was now facing Elross, its hackles raised, saliva dripping from its teeth. Elross wanted to run, but he knew that it would be useless. Remembering the flaming branch in his hand, he raised it and waved it around and shouted, hoping the Thylacine would be scared away. For a moment it stood watching him in seeming confusion, but then it took a step forward and growled.
As the terrible beast towered over him Elross saw a flash of movement behind it and looking between its legs, he saw his father shoot another arrow from his bow. The Thylacine let out a howl and stumbled sideways a few steps away from Elross as the arrow struck its back. But it did not take long to recover and seconds later turned to face Gilron, snarling angrily.
There was nothing that Gilron could do. He reached for another arrow, keeping his eyes fixed on the beast, but he fumbled with his quiver and it fell to the ground, scattering his arrows uselessly. This distraction was exactly what the Thylacine had been waiting for, and as Gilron bent down to pick up the arrow closest to him, it sprang upon him without a sound.
“Father!” Elross shouted in warning, but it was too late.
By the flickering orange light of the fire and the steady, pale light of the moon he saw the Thylacine catch hold of his father by the torso with its terrible jaws. He watched in silent horror as the creature flicked its head and released its grip sending Gilron flying through the air across the clearing. With a heavy thud and a groan of pain, Gilron landed less than a metre from Elross’ feet, where he lay still.
Elross rushed over to his father’s side, tears streaming down his face. Gilron’s eyes were closed, his shirt was stained red in several places with blood, and he had still not moved. A feeling of unreality took over Elross and he felt as if the things he saw before his eyes were something out of a nightmare.
As the Thylacine stalked forward toward them, blood dripping from its mouth, Elross felt something stir within him, and not knowing quite what he was doing he stood up in front of his father and waved the flaming branch at the brute.
“Ya, ya!” he shouted through his tears as it towered over him. “Get back!” he cried, swinging the branch in its face. He told himself that he would at least set its fur on fire before he was eaten.
For several heart thudding seconds of silence, the Thylacine stared straight into his eyes, before glancing between him and the flaming branch in his hand. Then it looked past Elross to where Gilron lay and it licked its lips, impatient for another taste of blood. A terrible snarl emanated from the depths of its maw and it crouched, preparing to spring.
It was then that Elross became aware of a sound which was quite out of place considering the terrible scene before him. It was the sound of a female voice singing, soft and more beautiful than any he had ever heard and each second it grew in volume as if the singer were drawing nearer. As the song touched his ears Elross found himself feeling strangely calm despite the terrifying creature which stood before him.
The words of the song, which seemed to be in a language he could not understand, though no less beautiful for it, filled the air all around him, and he lowered the flaming branch in his hand, feeling that it was no longer needed.
He glanced toward the Thylacine and was astonished to see that a great change had come over it. Its tail hung between its legs, its mouth was closed, its head was bowed low to the ground and its eyes, which had only moments ago been nothing more than angry slits, were now wide open in what appeared to be fear or wonder.
As Elross took in this surprising sight the song came to a long low note which faded into silence. Almost at once, as if snapping out of a trance, the Thylacine lifted its head, snarled, and leapt upon him. Still somewhat under the effects of the strange song, Elross was too slow to react, and as he took a step back he stumbled over one of his father’s legs and fell onto his back. The flaming branch fell from his grasp and went out with a hiss. Lying there helpless, with nothing to defend himself he closed his eyes and waited for the beast to crush him…
Great place to end right? If you want to find out what happens next please grab yourself a copy from Amazon, either as a Paperback or eBook.