Greetings, friends! Thanks for dropping in to read excerpts of The Windrider Saga. The first entry is an excerpt from my work in progress, Valor's Worth, which I hope to see published by mid summer, 2013. I hope you enjoy!
Book III of the Windrider Saga
Rebecca P Minor
First blood, then bones in circle cast,
Forthwith to fill each darkling cleft.
Ne’er tarry ‘til moondeath is past,
Lest spill and grind yet still bereft
The legion ye be due.
Queldurik’s reign ensue
Amidst cricket songs and dapples of moonlight that filtered between dry autumn oak leaves overhead, Naghax settled a glare upon the rough stucco of the cottage just beyond the forest’s edge. The tidy structure stood at the western boundary of a little village comprised of a score of similar single-story dwellings. Windows stood dark or shuttered. No human activity stirred along the dirt byways between the buildings.
He twitched the tip of his ridged tail. The fire of urgency surged through his veins, and he flexed his clawed fingers against its insistence he draw his sword and make an end of the silent suspense.
His companion’s voice rumbled from behind him. “Sit still, would you? You’d think you were standing on a fire anthill.”
Naghax cracked his knuckles. “You know the softbellies’ patrols won’t bother to ask questions of any dragon-kin they find on their outskirts. Every delay threatens to undo our stealth.”
“Your nervous prattle will undo us faster.” Hanash pushed back his hood to reveal his reptilian head and disapproving glare. “Shut up.”
A flare of light arced across the ebony sky above, and Naghax pointed his snout skyward to trace the path of the flaming ball of catapult shot that streamed in on its ruinous path toward the village center. A grin creased his cheeks when the shot crashed into the wood-shingled roof of the council building.
“There, see?” Hanash slid his scimitar free of its scabbard. “It won’t be long now.”
A mechanical ka-chunk from somewhere in the deep cover of the woods rang out, and a streaking comet of malevolent intent sailed into view. This one smashed through the front window of the building with a satisfying tinkle of shattered glass. A bell pealed in a stout fieldstone tower on the opposite side of the town from where Naghax and Hanash crouched.
Naghax’s focus settled back upon the nearest home. Surely the lout inside must hear the bell. Who could miss it, with as shrill as it rang its desperate alarm? Finally, some of the other little dwellings surrounding the council building flared to life, the yellow glow of candle and lantern swelling in their windows. As if to join their ranks, slivers of light lanced through the chinks in the shutters just feet away.
Despite the fact his anticipation begged the moment, Naghax still jumped when the front door to the dwelling burst open. A long-legged man in a hastily wrapped toga and unevenly laced sandals marched out. He reached under his arm and tightened a final buckle on his leather breastplate. Behind him, a woman in a pale dressing gown trailed, a beaten bronze helmet under her arm. They halted a few paces from the house. The man turned his face to the spreading flames a furlong away. His eyes hardened and his jaw muscles bulged.
“What could this mean?” the woman asked.
“Perhaps we are compromised,” the man replied.
Perhaps. Naghax suppressed a snort.
Another figure, lankier and a hand span shorter than the first male softbelly, dashed from the home. He, too, buckled a breastplate. “Father, what should we do?”
So many of the problematic members of the household were now outside. Naghax looked to his comrade and raised an eyebrow.
“They’ll go,” Hanash whispered. “You’ll see.”
Finally, a clamor arose somewhere in the shadows beyond the growing flames in the distance. The clash of steel and the shouts of both softbellies and Naghax’s own kinsman cut through the crackle of flame.
The woman handed the elder softbelly his helm. “Creo shield you, beloved,” she said.
He looked to the youth. “Ready, son?”
The youth swept a sword from the scabbard at his hip with a clear ring. “Lead on, father.”
“Praesidio, please.” The woman stepped toward the youth and straightened his armor. Her voice was tight. “Stay close to your father.”
The three softbellies embraced, and Naghax writhed as though his scales were too confining. Get on with it—so much ceremony!
At last, the two men, the young and the mature, dashed for the fire scene. The woman watched after for the perfect, opportunity-building moment.
With a leap that released all the tension of the wait, Naghax and Hanash sprang from the cover of the shadows. Naghax bared blackened steel and filled the gap between the woman and her front door. Just as planned, Hanash intercepted her while Naghax lunged through the entry.
Guttering candlelight cast a dance of hard, black shadows around the first floor of the dwelling. At the foot of a rough wood ladder to a loft, there they huddled. Could anyone have made the task simpler? Three softbelly maidens, none yet old enough for the blossom of womanhood to cast doubt upon her purity, clung to one another. The youngest shrieked—and well she should.
Another sharp, feminine cry from outside the door implied that Naghax’s partner had cleared the way. He descended upon the maidens, his webbed wings spread for dramatic effect, and grabbed at the eldest.
“Cassia! Marilla! Run!” Naghax’s target screamed. She writhed and kicked against his grasp, but he wrestled her behind his forearm and clamped his opposite hand over her mouth.
Naghax swallowed a cry as his prisoner’s teeth found their way between some of his palm scales and cut flesh. Blood squeezed from his veins. Serves her right. She could live with a bloodied face and whatever mouthful she got of the acidic stuff.
Still, she wrenched her crimson-smeared mouth free. “Find Father!”
The other two girls, in a stream of tears and panic, bolted around the roughly-crafted dining table and toward the door, only to be met by Hanash, who pounced upon them and caught the two smaller maidens under his arms.
“Mama! Papa, help!” the smallest girl squealed.
“It’s no good, my lambs,” Hanash said. “Papa can’t hear you. And Mama’s busy trying to tuck her innards back where they belong.”
With a swift kick, Naghax swept the eldest maiden’s feet from beneath her. He shouldered the door wider and dragged his flailing prisoner through. At the sight of the woman sprawled in a spreading pool of her own blood, the girl shuddered and fell silent.
The chaos in the distance had reached just the right, fevered, distracting pitch. Naghax and Hanash, along with their cargo of maidens undefiled, vanished into the embrace of the darkness.Finally, the Chalice of Gherag-Tal would awake.
Valor's Worth is preceded by two Windrider novellas, upon whose plot it draws. Book I, Divine Summons and Book 2, A Greater Strength, are now available in ebook formats from Diminished Media Group. Read what's below for a taste of what the stories are like, and if you like what you see, pick up your copy today at Amazon.com.
And for those of you who still have a love affair with paper pages, a print compilation of both books is also available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Print books are regularly $12.99, although both retailers often run sales.
The Windrider Saga, Book 1
Serial Fiction by Becky Minor
I pounded my heels into the flanks of my horse, and he sprang forward at my earnest command. With one last glance over my shoulder, I glimpsed my final remaining comrade as he slipped into the concealing embrace of the rocks and heather. Vanished. But would his false trail be the help we hoped, or just speed both our deaths as we forsook each other’s company in one last, desperate tactic? How could something as small as a chalice be worth all the suffering and loss we had already confronted that day? I forced the thought behind steel walls in the back of my mind. Nothing mattered more than the return of the black vessel, cast from the blood of a demon and ringed in the teeth of the basilisk, to my superiors in the Elven capitol of Delsinon—not even the bond of long friendship.
The chalice, the cursed thing! While no bigger than a mundane cup, it clearly bore more significance than size implied, if the pack of dragon-kin pursuing me were any indication. While I still drew breath, no foul servant of the Darkness would use the cup to summon fiendish allies into the world of elves and men. The dragon-kin were formidable enough foes without the ghastly apparitions of hell to swell their ranks.
I spurred Solaris harder toward the jagged arm of the mountains that lay ahead, for though I could not see my pursuers, they were surely only far enough behind to be out of sight. The thundering of hooves over the open plain turned to hammer strokes as the ground became rocky. Yet, Solaris never slackened, sensing the dire nature of our mission-- perhaps more than I. Could he smell the acrid scent of dragon-kin on the wind?
We wound along a narrow path that meandered between two shoulders of salt white rock, when suddenly, Solaris’s scream shattered the air. He dropped from beneath me. I flew from his back and landed hard with a rattle of plate mail and armaments.
I rolled over to see my horse lying on the ground. His flanks heaved, which I expected from his long exertion, but something about the uneven rhythm of his short breaths told me he gasped in pain. No arrow or other attack had pierced him, so why had he fallen?
When at last I saw the source of his distress, my stomach lurched. Wedged tightly between two jutting stones stood the lower half of his foreleg. The blood and bone did not trouble me; decades of battle had numbed me to such gore. My inner turmoil came rather from the inevitable loss of a faithful companion. In his final effort to serve me, he had seen his leg sheared off by terrain I had no business asking him to gallop through. I drew my crossbow. Flashes of every battle, every training exercise, every time he proved himself more a soldier than many who went on two legs, raced through my mind.
I only hoped the bolt would end his long duty to me with dignity. His last shrill cry as the missile discharged from my weapon rent my heart with searing finality.
The unmistakable tramp of feet and the guttural shouts of my enemies reached my ears. I looked at Solaris’ still body. To leave his remains for the sport of crows filled me with rancor. My enemies drew closer.
“Sorry old friend,” I whispered. I brushed his long, gray forelock out of his unseeing eye and swallowed hard. Hefting my pack, I rose and dashed deeper into the mountains.
The wounds I had collected winning the chalice this morning throbbed as I pressed onward, and I searched my mind for tactical options. Could I stand my ground? Doubtful. Outrun them? The growing clamor of pursuit testified this strategy had already failed me. As a Captain of the Elven army, I bristled at the idea, but I knew I must hide.
I searched the defile, ever watchful should enemy scouts close the gap between us. There--a cave! I parted the brambles and vines that hung over the entrance and peered into the deep shadows within. As my gift of elvensight turned the interior darkness to day, I drew my sword and slipped inside the cavern. The first chamber of the cave was too small to hide me for long. Best to investigate deeper into the cavern, I thought.
The rear of the chamber narrowed into a slim corridor. I treaded softly as a cat on the prowl. Oddly, instead of the cave growing darker the deeper I pressed, a faint, bluish glow flickered in the distance ahead. What devilry had I walked into in an effort to forestall my slaughter? I inched down the channel, and each breath, like each heartbeat, came quicker than the last. Which would be worse? To turn back to the known battle behind me, or to risk danger untested ahead? I set my jaw and forged onward.
The corridor opened into another chamber. At last, I saw the source of the blue light that had grown with every step I took. Glowing stones poked from the walls at irregular intervals, bathing the cavern in unearthly hues. I blinked while my eyes reverted to lightvision.
“You have been much delayed, Vinyanel Ecleriast. Surely your commanders despair of your return.”
I sucked a sharp breath through my teeth. What, or whom had I missed in my eyesight’s transition? I scoured the cavern with renewed acuity.
A willowy, raven-haired maiden rose from behind a stone slab that served as a sort of table. A faint tinkling drifted through the air as she stood, doubtless from the hundreds of tiny bells that adorned her slim bodice, her many layered skirt, and the riot of scarves cascading from her body. She seemed jarringly out of place in this rough cavern in the wilderness.
I had no patience for bandying of words. “How do you know my name?”
“I know all things the Creator reveals to me.” She glided towards me. Only the occasional peek of a bare foot from beneath her hem told me she walked rather than floated. Though I could guess little about this strange woman, at least she was mortal.
As she drew near, I narrowed my eyes. A half-elf. Her soft-edged features and lightly pointed ears bespoke her mixed parentage. I gripped my sword until my knuckles whitened; such outcasts often earned checkered reputations.
Her penetrating amber eyes locked onto my own. “You are less than you are meant to be.”
“You talk in riddles,” I shot back at her. “I simply hope to find a way to evade the dragon-kin who are doubtless already at the mouth of the cave.”
“Ah, you are much troubled by such a little thing.”
This maiden grated on my battle-raw nerves. “A fine conclusion for you who has not lost stalwart companions to the swords of enemies this day.”
She sighed, the sound gently musical as she cast her gaze to the earthen floor of the cavern. “The clamor of your youth in your ears prevents you from hearing truth, young Windrider.”
Young? She had nerve. Her human parentage had robbed her of half of the years she might have lived, and yet she called me “young.” I slammed my sword into its sheath. “Windrider? More riddles! Explain, or do not add them to my list of troubles today.”
The maiden took on a distant look, her gaze seeming to probe into places unseen by mortal eyes. She drifted back to the stone slab and turned a page of a tome bound in flaking leather that lay on its roughly-hewn top. The page crackled, its brittle sound echoing through the room. She did not look down at the book, but rested her palm upon it and closed her eyes, her ebony lashes a dark splash against caramel cheeks.
“On the wings of the dragon I shall bear them up. They shall soar to victory, proclaiming my glory, enacting my justice, in humbleness and mercy. In their partnership, they shall trumpet the loving-kindness of their Maker, as well as the dread power of my fury upon those who profane me.” She forthspoke the message; it flowed from her lips of its own accord.
I knew the passage--but why speak it now? As the words worked their way into my soul, I felt the steel in my gaze softening, my muscles uncoiling. “I fail to see how these words explain your strange address. But if you will enlighten me, Servant of the Creator, I will listen.”
She smiled and opened her eyes, her expression growing ‘present’ again. “The chalice must arrive in Delsinon. Yet you may not, with your horse slain and your enemies upon the doorstep.”
As if to punctuate her words, the clamor of voices echoed in the distance. I had delayed. Now I was trapped.
“Come with me.” The half-elf maiden took my hand and led me toward the wall. Just when I thought she would recoil from the hard smack of her head upon the stone, the wall dissolved into an opalescent glimmer, and we passed through as easily as one passes through a curtain of water.
We emerged into an antechamber, lit from above by a wide entry, some hundred feet up the wall. I staggered back, whipping my weapon from its scabbard again and nearly losing my grip on the hilt in my haste. Curled nonchalantly in the center of the room was the most enormous beast I had ever seen. His scales were like thousands of polished mirrors. His maw, instant death. But his eyes, gentle as the new leaves whose color they bore.
“Greetings, Vinyanel,” the dragon rumbled. “We have a delivery to make, and none too soon. Let us leave behind the little mockers who so poorly reflect my kind.” He jerked his head toward his withers, inviting me to do what I never would have presumed to try.
The words the prophetess had just read echoed in my mind. For so long, I had taken such passages from Creo's book of wisdom as words of beauty meant to be interpreted as symbolism alone. Could the Maker desire to partner me with this daunting creature before me? Could I be a vessel of his justice and his mercy?
I took one tentative step toward the silver dragon. A shudder ran through the floor, and the sound of cracking stone cut through the air.
“Quickly!” the prophetess cried.
I leapt upon the back of the dragon and pulled the half-elf up behind me as the cavern wall crumbled in a shower of rubble and dust. At least a dozen black hooded dragon-kin stood in the gap. They hesitated, deep cowls obscuring their reaction to the scene before them. I could guess at their thoughts.
With a single thrust of legs and wings, our mount launched us into the air.We sped toward the mouth of the cavern, and I exulted in the exhilaration of flight. Lancing into the azure sky, we wheeled to the south. Not even my grief could keep up with me now. Was it my destiny to glorify my Maker from the back of a dragon? So be it. I knew from that point forward the matchless thrill of flight would be a delight for which my appetite would never slacken.
The Windrider Saga, Book II
A Greater Strength
A Greater Strength
Serial Fiction by Becky Minor
The Shortcomings of Station
I buckled my vambrace over my left forearm, then clenched and flexed my hand. The fit was snug, but not tight. Awe inspiring, really, the way the smiths could take sheets of metal and coax them to hug flesh.
My eyes swept the bed before me, where the rest of the armor lay. The black, lacquered breastplate, the artful sweep of the arches on my gorget, the spaulders for my shoulders and arms, with overlapping plates that came to parallel points—all spoke not only of protection but station. I would need the former more than the latter as I prepared for the tasks that lay ahead.
“The suit meets with your approval then, Captain Ecleriast?” my squire asked.
“Indeed, Vaelros.” I shot him a rare smile, to which he reacted with a stunned grin in return.
He lifted the breastplate on spindly arms. He was still coltish, complete with knobby-jointed limbs, as if all the weight of his elfling body now stretched over a frame many inches taller than it had recently been. With a grunt, he held the plates high, and I ducked my head through to settle the armor’s satisfying weight over the shirt of chain I already wore.
Piece by piece, we maneuvered my body into the armor, tightened buckles, and adjusted straps. I flexed my hips; the fit of my cuisses would take some getting used to. I scooped up the gold-plated helm that remained, smoothed the long black tail of horsehair that flowed from the ridge along the top, and tucked it under my arm.
Vaelros held out a long, trim scabbard with an overly ornate crossguard and hilt perched atop it. Tooling and a spray of bright gemstones warred with one another for domination of its surface.
I frowned. “What is this?”
Vaelros flinched. “The sword the drapers included to accompany your—”
I snatched the weapon from his hand. It rattled. Heavy for its slender profile. Completely unbalanced. I tossed it in the corner with a clatter. Drapers. “Not in their wildest dreams,” I replied. “Get my sword.”
“Yes, sir. As you wish.” The squire scuttled to the tall wardrobe in the corner and withdrew the weapon I requested, returned to my side, and handed it to me. Yes, the cracked leather of my sword belt and the nicks and dents in my scabbard made them look beaten and shabby in comparison to the sparkling perfection of my new suit of armor, but Delsinon’s security in question as of late, I had no intention of being caught with a flimsy non-sword at my hip. Not to mention the fact that the longsword was now the oldest friend I had. I buckled the belt around my waist and turned for the door.
The bell in the clock tower chimed three as I crossed the inner bailey of Delsinon’s fortress to head for King Saransaeloth’s throne room. Enlisted soldiers who practiced their swordsmanship, servants, and couriers alike paused in their business as I swept past. I tightened my jaw to keep a smile from parting my lips, but my chin lifted higher of its own accord.
Two guards in white tabards bowed to me, then pulled the outer doors to the keep open. I passed through the foyer, then down the long, sunlit corridor to the throne room. My heart rate picked up to a brisk thud. I stopped at the tall archway that led into the throne room. I drew in a long, deep breath.
Before I had the chance to blow the breath out, the double doors before me split and swung inward on silent hinges. At other times, King Saransaeloth’s chamber of audience held no seats besides the three thrones upon the dais, but not this day. A wide center aisle ran between rank upon rank of chairs, every one of them occupied with officers of the elven military, dignitaries, diplomats, and nobles. It seemed every notable elf in the kingdom had assembled.
So many watching eyes, waiting to pass judgment. Silence hung over all. The rustle of fine clothing, a single cough. I held my breath as I kept my head high, but met no gaze.
The sudden trilling of silver trumpets nearly shocked me out of both armor and skin. Their piercing fanfare echoed off the marble walls and columns of the lofty room as they called, six on one side, to be answered by the half dozen on the other. The assembly rose. I thrill at a good fanfare as much as the next brass lover, but as I stood in the doorway with a lump in my throat, this one seemed to stretch on for decades.
Once the last note died, King Saransaeloth entered from the rear of the dais. He wore a high collared, damask printed tunic that hung to his knees, tailored to skim his trim frame. White pant legs gleamed beneath the bottom hem of the tunic. A light mantle of deep plum hung from his shoulders. Behind him followed his delicate queen, and at her side, the young crown prince Saranlithian.
They crossed the dais in silence to stand before the trio of thrones, the facets of crystal that composed the king’s seat refracting motes of light across them all. He lifted his hand. His sober gaze locked upon mine.
I finally found the courage to exhale the breath I had held up to this point. With a purposeful squaring of my shoulders, I marched down the aisle.
Could not the trumpeters have saved some sort of melody for this moment, instead of my sabatons providing the only rhythm, and that a decidedly unmusical sound. I mounted the first, then second step of the dais, then turned to face the mob—crowd.
“Distinguished elves under the reign of his Majesty, High King Saransaeloth!” the herald’s voice rang out. “We come today to honor this servant of the crown, Captain Vinyanel Ecleriast, for excellence in performance in the protection of both His Majesty and his people.”
My eyes strayed to the front row of the assembly, though I had told myself that was the last place I would look. Lerendir, Chancellor of War, stood with his hands clasped in front of him, a look of pride on his face. Beside him, Major Galdurith Emynon of the Blackwatch, the expression upon his features somewhat blank, held a rigid pose. Very close to Galdurith stood the half-elven Prophetess Veranna, who toyed with a stray lock of her dark tresses with one hand and smoothed her multi-tiered, garishly colored skirt with the other. She looked a gypsy amidst gentry, and from her collapsed posture, I imagined she felt it as well.
“…for deeds of valor. We present thee, Captain Ecleriast…”
Perfect. I was supposed to have already turned around by now. I contained my grimace and quietly spun to face the herald. The flames of my gaffe swarmed up my neck and into my cheeks.
A page held a satin pillow with a large medallion resting in the middle. King Saransaeloth approached the page to lift the medal, attached to a wide blue ribbon, from its nest.
“…with this medal, which signifies your promotion of rank. His Majesty grants you the rank of Lieutenant Commander of His Majesty’s Cavalry.”
I ducked my head, glad of the curtain of platinum hair that cascaded to either side of my face, lest someone see the utter shock that must have emanated from my features.
* * * * *
Of course these things always have a reception. And of course Major Emynon insisted upon being the first to approach me.
Although he smiled as he took my hand, the seethe in his eyes smoldered. “Well, Lieutenant Commander…a big day for you.”
My glance flicked to the medal of valor that glinted on the chest of his ebony waistcoat. The decoration seemed befitting the accomplishments of our last campaign, much more than a leapfrogging promotion of rank. Were I in his position, I do not know I might have had the grace to say anything, even something so noncommittal as the major’s greeting.
“At least we do not serve in the same branch, Major,” I replied. “With any luck, these circumstances will recede into the background of your life, if not disappear altogether.”
A bitter laugh escaped the major’s lips. “I can only hope…sir.” He made a face as if he had an off-putting taste in his mouth. “But I get the feeling that His Majesty and his advisors intend to parade you around quite visibly.”
The very idea turned my stomach. “What? Why?”
“Can you not see?” The major lowered his voice to a conspiratorial tone. “With the city’s security in such a tenuous state, they need the people to feel safe. What better way to do that than to proclaim the great dragon-rider, the soldier so talented he can barely be contained by the restraints of military ranks, stands between them and utter doom?”
“You are fabricating this,” I replied. I wished I believed it. The major had provided a fairly logical explanation to the afternoon’s events.
The major made no response, but continued to look at me, one eyebrow raised.
“The sooner I can recover the lost talismans, the better, then.” I turned from the conversation as a dignitary clasped my shoulder to offer some compliment I only half heard. So it continued for the rest of the reception. I bristled against the possibility of my being moved about the chessboard of elven politics as a pawn, but I buried my misgivings behind a stern mask.
* * * * *
At the first moment I could justify it, and most likely before it was polite, I quietly excused myself from the revelry around me. I had no heart for the music, the chatter, the etiquette. As I slipped through the side door of the throne room, one last intense gaze caught mine. Blast! Veranna had seen me leaving.
I quickened my pace as I marched down the hall. She had a lot of crowd to navigate before she might catch me, so perhaps I could lose her before she made it to the side door. My strides carried me to the end of the corridor.
“Vinyanel!” the Prophetess’ voice echoed from behind me, to my misfortune. Why did her voice rise with such urgency?
Something crashed into me from behind. A hard edge dragged across the back of my neck, though my chain mail turned the blow. I lunged forward.
“Veranna, get out of here!” I shouted as I swept my sword from its scabbard. I wheeled.
A figure in dark, frame-hugging garb stood in a half crouch, brandishing a sword whose long blade grew wider at the tip. A khanda, perhaps?
He leapt at me, though I caught his attack with my midguard. From this closer vantage point, a nasty spike that poked from the back of his hilt caught my attention. He would have done better had he just rammed that into the back of my skull instead of whatever botched slash he had taken at me from behind. I thrust him back, then beckoned to him with my off hand. I did not mean to smirk, but I just could not help myself.
The black clad man’s eyes darted about the hall for a moment before he sprang for the window beside us.
I pointed my sword at him and said, “Creo restrain you!”
A surge of white light sped from the tip of my blade and enveloped the stranger; he froze as though paralyzed. He crashed to the floor, his limbs suspended in the posture of his leap.
Veranna ran to my side, every little bell on her skirts and scarves tinkling in a miniature riot.
“Nicely done, Vinyanel,” she said.
I shot her a dry look as I turned my attacker over with my foot. Even before I looked at his face, I kicked the khanda out of his hand. I then bent to tug the black hood from his head, to reveal a dark skinned face and wide, yellowing eyes.
“North Deklian?” Veranna asked.
I nodded. “I hope whoever hired this assassin did not pay much.”