Excerpt From SHADOW OF THE DRILL By Rhani D’Chae

The characters in the following story are from my novel, Shadow of the Drill. After a moderately grueling assignment, they take a day off to enjoy a Sunday barbecue.

 

A Break in the Battle

 

   Charlene squealed, leaning to the side to avoid an airborne hot dog. She need not have worried, for the meaty missile bounced neatly against the chest of JT, who was seated next to her.

   “Damn it, Rudy!” JT grabbed a napkin from the table and scrubbed at his shirt. “That wasn’t funny!”

   “Really?” Rudy flashed an innocent grin over the top of barbecue grill. “I thought it was hilarious.”  He flipped a pair of hamburgers, then added a dash of seasoning to each.

   “You got hot dog grease on my shirt,” JT said crossly. “Next time, warn me so I can duck.”

   “Don’t run your mouth, and there won’t be a next time.” Rudy raised his right arm, pointing at the cast that encased it from wrist to elbow. “Even with this, I can hit what I’m aiming at.”

   JT shot a glare in Rudy’s general direction. “Can you believe him?”

   “You shouldn’t have said he was getting old, and you definitely shouldn’t have said he was losing his touch.” Charlene refilled her glass from the pitcher of lemonade on the table. Lemonade, and just the right amount of tequila.

   “Who’s getting old?” Decker stepped from the dining room onto the deck, leaning on a cane with one hand and holding a bowl of potato salad in the other. “You best not be talking about me!”

   “Don’t worry, Peter Pan, we weren’t.” Charlene pulled the chair to her left away from the table so that Decker could sit. “JT said it about Rudy.”

   “Well, that was stupid.” Decker set the bowl onto the table, then dropped into the chair, leaning the cane against the table before reaching for the pitcher.

   JT pointed to the stain on his shirt. “You’re not kidding! Good arm, bad arm, it don’t matter. He’s dead on.”

   He shifted in his chair, muttering a soft curse when his broken ribs objected.

   Decker smiled sympathetically, knowing from firsthand experience how he felt. “Give it a couple of weeks,” he advised. “You’ll feel better before you know it.”

   “I know,” JT replied. “But in the meantime, it really hurts!”

   “Your face looks better.” Decker reached across the table, tilting JT’s head to the right. “At least, the swelling’s gone down. You’ll have the color for a while, yet.”

   Charlene leaned back, tuning out the conversation while she thought back over the last six days.

   It had started as just another job, but it had quickly become so much more. Hired to find and retrieve a stolen Shelby Daytona Coupe, Decker and his team had landed in the middle of an auto theft ring that stretched from Bellevue to Portland. Finding the missing car had been difficult – retrieving it had been damn near impossible.

   The car had been located in Vancouver and liberated in the dark of night with considerable damage to all concerned. By the time the Shelby was safely in a truck headed north, Decker had calculated how much of a wear and tear fee he was going to charge his employer before the car was offloaded at its destination.

   Bruised and broken, Decker’s team had limped back to Tacoma and gone their separate ways. After checking on the Shelby, Decker had contacted the owner and arranged a time to meet.

   Charlene had greeted him at the door when he arrived home, the sight of his battered body bringing tears to her eyes. He had assured her that he was not seriously hurt, so there was no discussion of seeking medical help. He knew his body – and its injuries – better than any doctor, so she did not question his analysis of the situation.

   Injured and exhausted, he had needed rest. A great deal of rest. But, after only a day and a half, he was limping restlessly from room to room, and she knew that something needed to be done.

   The barbecue had been her idea, and he had willingly agreed. Though they often entertained, they had never invited more than two or three people over at once. The fact that it was JT’s first social visit to the house contributed to the uniqueness of the event, as did the presence of Decker’s old friend and occasional teammate, Hunter Grae.

   The side gate rattled, and Charlene jumped up to open it before Davis dropped his armload of Tupperware containers. The investigator gave her a warm smile, thanking her for her assistance.

   Charlene looked over his shoulder. “Where’s Bert?”

   “She’ll be along soon,” Davis told her. “She had to run her mother to the grocery store, so she’s a little behind schedule. But don’t worry, she’s not far behind me.”

   He handed over three of the containers. “Pasta salad, deviled eggs, and some sort of asparagus thing.” He shrugged apologetically. “Personally, I don’t think asparagus has any business being at a barbecue, but you know how Bert is.”

   Charlene laughed, then sobered when she noticed the manila envelope beneath the remaining two containers. “That better not be what I think it is.”

   “It’s everything I could find for the Palmer job. I promised I’d bring it by today.” He waved at Decker and JT, then slid the envelope from beneath the Tupperware to show he’d brought it.

   Charlene put her hand on his wrist, stopping him. “Not today, please. He’ll open it up, they’ll spend the rest of the day plotting and planning, and that’ll be it for the day off. You know it as well as I do. They just can’t help themselves.”

   Davis thought for a moment, then nodded. “You’re right,” he agreed. “Okay, I’ll toss this back in the car and give it to him tomorrow. I can’t stall any longer than that, but at least it won’t ruin today.”

   “Thank you,” Charlene said gratefully, then headed for the kitchen to unpack the Tupperware while Davis returned to his car.

   When she passed Rudy, he handed her a plate loaded with hotdogs and hamburger patties.

   “Here’s a first round. Is everything on the food table?”

   Charlene glanced over the long fold-up table that Decker had set on the grass. It held assorted buns and condiments, as well as paper plates and plastic silverware.

   “Just about. Hunter’s in the kitchen slicing cheese, and I have to put Bert’s stuff on plates, but it won’t take long. So yes, it’s pretty much ready. “

   “That’s a good thing.” Rudy pressed his fingers against the pieces of tape that held a long strip of gauze to the side of his face, checking that they were still secure. “So we’re just waiting on the cheese.”

   As if on cue, Hunter appeared on the deck, carrying a serving tray that had been loaded down with small plates of pickles, slices of cheese, and crisp lettuce leaves. He called out a greeting to Davis and Roberta, who were coming through the gate together, then headed for the picnic table to unload the tray.

   He was clad in shorts and a tank top, and Charlene could clearly see the stitches where the blade of a knife had cut into his calf, and the colorful section of bruising that a heavy object of some sort had left along his collarbone.

   She joined him at the picnic table, calling to the others as she set the plate down. She was able to get her hamburger onto a plate, along with potato salad and baked beans, before the table was surrounded by hungry people.

   Glad that she had escaped the swarm, Charlene returned to her place at the oversized table on the deck. Taking her seat, she enjoyed a moment of silence, knowing that a moment was all she would probably get.

   A light breeze brought the scent of roses, and Charlene closed her eyes, inhaling with pleasure. So far, the day had been wonderful, and she knew that the evening would be just as fine.

   Opening her eyes, she looked around at the people who mattered in her life. It couldn’t be more perfect, she thought with a contented smile. Fun, food, and the very best of friends combined to make a day that she would long remember. Especially since, for a few short hours, it was a fairly safe bet that no one was going to die.

 

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(Rhani D’Chae) RWISA Author Page

#RRBC Spotlight Author for August: Carol Marrs Phipps

Our most recent book, Wham! will be featured during my blog tour and interviews.

“WHAM! (Timewalker Book 1)”

Wham by Carol Marrs Phipps

BOOK BLURB:

When the World Alliance seized power from all the governments of the world, they said it was for the greater good. They said it was necessary to unite all the nations of the globe under one banner in order to bring universal peace, equality and prosperity to the world.

To most families throughout the world, the rise of the Alliance and their grandiose promises meant little. They had long grown weary of the lies of the corrupt law-makers and heads of state and were far more concerned with their day-to-day struggles to survive.

The Greenwood family was no exception, and for a time life went on much as it had before the rise of the Alliance. In time, individual cultural and racial identity were outlawed. They said it was for the greater good. They said it was necessary to create a more harmonious, homogenous world community. The Greenwood family adapted.

But then they took away freedom. They made it mandatory for all households and public buildings to have skinwelers, crystal spying balls in every room, in order to watch the people’s every move. They said it was for the greater good. They said it was necessary for public safety and civil order. And the Greenwood family adapted.

But then the state took their family farm and lands and moved them to Gollsport where they had built barracks for all the displaced citizens. They said it was for the greater good. They said the countryside had become contaminated by farm chemicals and the relocation was for their continued health and safety. Once again, the Greenwood family adapted.

But then they came in the night and took away seventeen year-old Tess Greenwood’s entire family. They said it was for the greater good. They said Tess would adapt and in time she would be far better for it.

But Tess cared not for the Alliance’s greater good. She did not adapt. She wanted her family back and vowed to do whatever she must in order to see them again. Little did she know, that to keep her vow, she would have to become a timewalker.

 

Itinerary for Month of August:

Blog Tour: 8/6/17 – 8/12/17

will be our “SPOTLIGHT” Author for the entire month of August.

Here is the line-up of my blog tour:

Sunday, 8/6/17

Room With Books

Monday, 8/7/17

Tuesday, 8/8/17 

Wednesday, 8/9/17

Thursday, 8/10/17

Friday, 8/11/17

Saturday, 8/12/17

“Bring On The Spotlight” Radio Show: TBA

“Who’s On The Shelf?” Interview: TBA

“SPOTLIGHT” Support Day: TBA

More details will be available daily, HERE: https://ravereviewsbynonniejules.wordpress.com/spotlight-authors/

 

Navigator by Wendy Scott

 

Luke’s body whirled through the portal in a kaleidoscope of starlight and rainbows. Burnt ozone stung his nostrils, and his stomach roiled as if live dragonflies flitted inside. He clutched his grandfather’s palm tighter, the only connection anchoring them together while they spun into the void, guided by the compass in his grandfather’s other hand.

“We’re here.” His grandfather’s words whistled with wheeziness.

He released Luke and turned away, pocketing the compass, but his old man’s movements weren’t quick enough to hide the tremors or his shortness of breath.

A mountain breeze, tinged with smoke ruffled the tussock grasses underfoot. In the valley below, Luke pinpointed a chimney on a cluster of shacks beside fenced paddocks. Had the old man’s sense of direction faded and cast them adrift?

“Follow me.” His grandfather rolled his shoulders back, lifted his head high, and led the descent.

Mindful of their journey’s mission doubt dragged at Luke’s feet. At only twelve, would he be found worthy? He didn’t want to think about his grandfather’s declining health if their bid was rejected.

Metallic scent tainted the air as they skirted past the dwellings; a one-room cottage, barn, and a smithy. Orange coals smoldered on the forge, hammers, and tongs lined up in military precision, but the pockmarked leather apron hung empty from a hook on the open door.

Without pause, his grandfather guided Luke out the back to the horse corrals. A bear of a man with arms like anvils leaned against the fence. Leather pants and knee-high boots sheathed his legs, but his chest was bare except for a star patterned tattoo, staining his chest muscles indigo and cobalt. At their approach his head swiveled, snaring the pair with a deep ocean gaze. Dryness etched Luke’s throat.

“Navigator, so many years have passed, I feared you would not return.”

Luke’s grandfather bowed his head. “Farrier, events have been unkind, but I keep my promises. My grandson had agreed to assume the responsibility in the place of his father who died when he was a babe.”

The men spoke as if Luke were a phantom, but he remained silent, remembering his grandfather’s instructions only to speak when asked a direct question by the otherworld farrier.

Grass scented warmth huffed through Luke’s hair. A midnight coated horse towered above his head. A white star marked the stallion’s forehead.

Luke clambered up the railings, but he still had to stretch to trail his fingertips along the horse’s snout. His breath caught when he gazed into the depths of the creature’s starlight eyes.

Firm fingers clasped Luke’s shoulder, and the farrier bowed towards the steed.  “Kasper approves of you. Come inside.”

The temperature in the smithy scorched the hairs inside Luke’s nose, and sweat trickled beneath his tunic, but the farrier worked the bellows until the coals combusted into flames. Next, he sprinkled a handful of sand into the hearth, and the fire danced into violet and malachite hues.

“You understand, old friend, without the enchantment your life span will be reduced to mortal years?”

My grandfather nodded.”These old bones grow weary, and the pathways are becoming muddled. My time is past. Luke is young, but he is pure of heart. ”

The farrier studied his friend for a moment before he reached out with his palm. “Navigator, of your own free will do you relinquish your powers to your grandson?”

The old man answered by dropping his compass into the farrier’s outstretched hand. “I do.”

The farrier’s otherworld stare scrutinized the boy, and although the being didn’t touch him, a prickling sensation rippled up Luke’s spine. After several heartbeats, the farrier inclined his head. “Your soul is free of darkness, but perhaps you are too young yet for any temptations to have challenged your values.”

“He’s a good lad. I vouch for him and will guide his path.” His grandfather squeezed Luke’s shoulder.

Calloused fingers gripped Luke’s chin. “Are you sure you want this? It’s not too late to back out and live a normal life. Be warned, once you accept you are bound for life. Each time you enter here seeking my help a non-negotiable toll must be paid.”

Before crossing over doubts had plagued Luke’s thoughts, but after tasting magic, he couldn’t settle for a dull life on the farm when his world had been opened to the lure of other realms.

Luke moistened his lips. “Navigator blood runs in my veins. I’m young, but I’m ready.”

The farrier released him. “Do I have your solemn vow you will only guide your passengers by the way of the light?”

Heart thundering, Luke focused on the compass. “I swear I’ll follow the true pathways.”

Light glinted off the chain as the farrier dangled the compass into the sparking coals. “Hold out your hand.”

Luke flinched, expecting his skin to sizzle when it touched the metal, but the compass was cool. He didn’t feel any different. Had the transfer worked?

The farrier clasped forearms with the older man. “You owe me one last favour, but I will redeem what’s due at another time.”

“As always it will be an honour to serve.” Luke’s grandfather stepped away.

“Navigator, peer into the fire.”

Several moments passed before Luke responded to his new title. Within the flames, he spied a young woman’s face, whose striking features seared into his memory.

“One day she will seek your skills, and when she does you must bring her to me.” The farrier crossed his arms.

Questions burned in Luke’s mind, but he’d been schooled on the protocols, so he suppressed his curiosity, and lowered his eyes. “As you command.”

The farrier ushered them into the yard and bid them farewell. “Keep your promises, follow the light and your direction will always be true.”

Outside Luke paused, blinking. A glittering path lit the way up to the portal.

Unshed tears gathered in his grandfather’s eyes. “The navigator’s sight is now hidden from me.”

Grasping the compass in one hand, Luke held out his other hand. “Come grandfather, I will guide you home.”

***

(Navigator is a prelude and companion scene to Fire Hooves – yet to be released by Wendy Scott).

 

Thank you for supporting this member along the WATCH “RWISA WRITE Showcase Tour today!  We ask that if you have enjoyed this member’s writing, to please visit their Author Page on the RWISA site, where you can find more of their writing, along with their contact and social media links, if they’ve turned you into a fan.  WE ask that you also check out their books in the RWISA or RRBC catalogs.  Thanks, again for your support and we hope that you will follow each member along this amazing tour of talent!  Don’t forget to click the link below to learn more about this author:

(Wendy Scott) RWISA Author Page

Spitemorta’s Troll Baby has the Strongest Magical Aura She’s Ever Seen

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After her address, Spitemorta tied up her skinweler in its pouch and dropped it into her bag. She missed the awed multitudes beyond the balcony of her throne room at Castle Goll. “A little trollish supplication might be just the thing,” she said as she picked up theimages (3)x Staff. She stepped into the hall, trotted downstairs and out into the glory of dandelions, wren chatter and bright sunshine. Bethan was on her knees, picking strawberries and didn’t see her set the Staff in the air, mount it and lean forward to shoot away into the deep blue sky.

She didn’t know exactly where Oilean Gairdin was beyond its being somewhere in the Jut of Niarg. But after some time, hurtling along the length of the Jut, she spied the remains of stone walls standing in a tumble of pink quartz rubble, surrounded by abandoned orchards and formal gardens on an island in the middle of Jutland Lake. “This has to be it,” she said as she settled her feet into the knee-deep grass and sat on her hovering stick, looking about. Grackles scolded, mobbing something in the crown of an apple tree. She dismounted and waded through the grass toward the ruins, pausing at an arbor to eat grapes. She saw no sure signs of trolls at all, but there were getting to be paths tramped flat in the grass as she neared the rubble. A striped blue lizard as big around as a pitchfork handle, vanished into the cracks of a stone fence. She stood, looking all about from under her hand. Over near a wall she saw bones. “Ha!” She hurried up her wallow through the grass to find a collapsed bedroom, overflowing the window sills with bones. Outside the broken walls, she now saw a good score of stone circles for campfires, most of them with live coals, scattered randomly about a courtyard littered with gnawed pieces of animal carcass and barefoot prints in the ankle deep dust. Presently she was hearing deep rumbling snores coming from every hole and recess that might protect from rain.

“Oh yes,” she said, stopping short. “I very nearly forgot. I’ll have to change to Fnadiyaphn’s throat. At least Fnadi-phnig-nyd and Dyr-jinyr-yy will know who I am as a human. It’s still hard to swallow from the last time.” She held the Heart to her throat. It began glowing at once. “Gaah-hoof!” she bellowed, jerking the Heart away. “Aah-hoof-aah-hoof!”

She could hear trolls mumbling and stirring as she stood there with pains shooting through her head, working her jaw. She began quietly peering into holes, wincing each time she bent over for a look. By the time she was wondering if she could bear any more bending over, she found Dyr-jinyr-yy sound asleep on his back not far away from a huge breasted sow, asleep against a wall under her snarled bush of fiery red hair, snoring away like a giant bullfrog with a grimy toddler in her arms. “Maybe I’m getting lucky,” she thought as she tiptoed close to peer at the baby. “He actually looks like James, except he’s a troll. Well we’ll see.” She went back to stand over Dyr-jinyr-yy. “Jy-oyf-ny-oyd-fif, Dyr- jinyr-yy,” she rumbled as she gave him a sharp poke with the Staff. “Ni!”

images (18)“Zawk-skok…” he smacked, suddenly sitting up with wide-eyed urgency.

“Jyrp-dyoy-dyn-yoy-oyr,” said Spitemorta with a phosphorescent flicker in her eyes. “You’ll live.”

With a squeal, he pitched forward and flattened himself at her feet. “Fnadiyaphn!” he whimpered into the foul dirt. “Goddess come-give Veyfnaryr big-head-nod looky-look?”

“And you’re going to show me,” she said with a cherubic nod.

Dyr-jinyr-yy was on his feet at once, dashing over to Fnayooph to give her hair a good yank.

Fnayooph gave an explosive swing of her fist, barely missing Dyr-jinyr-yy, who sat backwards with a bounce in the dirt. She gasped in shock at the sudden sight of 503-700w163251Spitemorta and grabbed up a club, giving it a furious fling right by her ear.

Spitemorta gave a crackling jab with the Staff, setting aglow a patch of earth in front of Fnayooph which immediately exploded, blinding everyone with dirt and making Veyfnaryr howl.

“Fnayooph!” cried Dyr-jinyr-yy. “She-be Goddess Fnadiyaphn! Fnadiyaphn play human queen.”

Veyfnaryr wiggled out of her arms and stood up with his fists in his eyes, wailing at the topneanderthal-baby of his lungs. Fnayooph grabbed him into her lap and silenced him with a teat as she ground at her eyes with the heel of her other hand.

“Good job that you took care of my baby before you even tried to see,” said Spitemorta, “otherwise, you would be dead right now. Does he bite?”

Fnayooph looked up with one confused eye, shook her head and held out Veyfnaryr for Spitemorta to take.

Spitemorta got a whiff of him and held up a pious hand. “I don’t need to take him,” she said. “I can see that he is getting the best of care.” She pursed her lips as a look of awe flickered across her face. “My word!” she thought. “He simply glows with magical power.”

She turned to Dyr-jinyr-yy. “I shall not keep you awake any longer,” she said. “You all are doing quite well indeed. I’ll simply be back from time to time to see how he’s doing.” And with that, she took to the air on her staff and vanished over the trees.

Well beyond Jutland lake, she landed and used the Heart to return her human throat and end her pounding headache. “My word!” she said as she climbed into the sky once more. “Nobody I’ve ever been around has that strong an aura…”

“See?” came a voice in her ear. “What did I try to tell you?”

“Shut up!” she screamed as she shook the Staff. “Shut up! Shut up Demonica!”

“Well I’m glad to see that you didn’t completely lose control of the Staff this time, dear,” came the voice again.

“Shut up!” she screamed. “Leave me alone!”

“Now just what kind of respect for the dead is that, Rouanez Bras?”

“Why can’t you leave me alone?”

“Believe me,” said the voice, “I most certainly would if it weren’t for your endless need of guidance. But since you clearly resent even the slightest inclination which I might have to help…”

“All right!” cried Spitemorta. “If I let you help me, will you go away?”

imagesdemonica“Mission accomplished, dear.”

“Very well, what do I need help with then, Grandmother?”

“Didn’t I tell you that your troll baby was going to be more powerful than the great Razzmorten himself?”

“I don’t remember.”

“Of course not,” said the voice. “I couldn’t get you to hold off your demands to have him killed long enough to notice what I was saying, as I recall.”

“And I can see that you’re just as tedious to listen to as ever.”

“Well let’s try again, dear. Did you notice what I said this time?”

“What?”

“Veyfnaryr. Razzmorten…”

“What? Being stronger? Get out of here, Demonica! I know very well what all that means.”

“Do you then? What does all this mean? This should be good.”

“Why go through telling you?” said Spitemorta. “You already have all the answers. But if you must, it means that even if the Elves do manage to raise some dangerously powerful wizard, your ugly little troll monster just might destroy him. Right?”

“Bravo!” cheered the voice with the sound of clapping. “But the ‘ugly little troll monster’ as you put it, is yours, dear.”

“My monster? It was your turning me into Fnadiyaphn, Grandmother.”

There did not seem to be an answer.

“Grandmother?” said Spitemorta, frantically looking all about. “Demonica? Damn you! Where’d you go? Hey Demonica!”

 

Ch. 12, The Reaper Witch, book five of Heart of the Staff: The Complete Series

The Reaper Witch 1280x2000

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Carol Marrs Phipps and Tom Phipps

Heart of the Staff Complete Series Box (1)

 

Spitemorta takes over her Mother’s House

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 Spitemorta lay in Demonica’s bed, listening to the cries of gulls out her window as the first rays of sunlight lit the wall behind her. She threw back her covers, sat on the side of the bed and nearly fell when she tried to stand up. She hobbled to the tea table and ate some of the cheese and corned beef she had found in one of the larders while hunting skinwelerioù. She had forgotten all about eating for some time and discovered that she was quite hungry. At last she decided to get dressed. The broadening daylight made her want to hurry.

“Well, it’s back west to Niarg before rejoining Coel and Cunneda,” she said as she stepped into her black kirtle, “but I’ll never be able to straddle the Staff for the entire way across the Orin Ocean. I’ll just have to pick a place where I can vomit when I get there.”

She laced up her bodice, grabbed up the Staff and turned her dress deep vermilion. She put the strap of her bag across her shoulder and sat on the bed with her skinweler. “Now just where is it?” she said as the swirling colors in the skinweler gave way to images. “Show me the manor house at Peach Knob. So that’s where Mother grew up with Auntie Min and Grandfather Razzmorten. Why would it be so dark? Very well, let’s find some place out of the way, around back.”

Suddenly she was on her hands and knees in a pandemonium of terrified chickens, B0002242squawking and flapping dust and old feathers all about her in the dim light of dawn as she retched and heaved her breakfast onto the floor between her hands. “Aangh!” she cried, catching her breath and sitting back on her heels as the chickens crowded round to snap up tidbits of her cheese and corned beef.

She grabbed up the Staff and sprang to her feet to pound with her fist along the chicken house wall until she found the door and threw it open. “My dress!” she wailed, waltzing intochickens2-1 the pigweed with her arms held wide. Just then it occurred to her that she was holding the Staff and she quickly used it to make herself as clean as she was when she was first dressed. Suddenly she stopped short with a scald of alarm at the sight of her second sunrise in one day. “No!” She shook her head. “No way it’s Demonica. It can’t be anything but the traveling spell.

 

“There’s the house,” she said, looking uphill beyond the big orchard. “And that was my very last traveling spell ever, ever, ever, I swear.” She started walking up the grassy lane between the rows of peach trees. An oriole gave a bawdy whistle. Up the lane, a kingbird chased away a pair of grackles. She could hear a tinkling of bells as sheep came running.

“Hoy!” she thought she heard someone holler. She looked back beyond the sheep to see a stooped old man wave. She turned away and made for the house. The summer kitchen reared up before her as she came out of the trees. She got a whiff of steak and eggs as she heard someone bang a skillet. She stopped and looked up at the manor house behind the kitchen. “Good for gentry,” she said. “At lest it’s temporary.”

 

A heavy set woman appeared in the doorway of the summer kitchen, wiping her hands on her apron. “Good morning to you, mistress,” she called out with a smile. “You look bewildered, a-coming up on us out o’ the orchard, that a-way. I’ve just fixed breakfast and I already set out an extra…”

“Oh I know exactly where I am.”

“Well now I’m Bethan, but should I know who you be?”

“It makes no difference who you are. But it’s always best to know your new queen, particularly when you work on her manor.”

“Peredur,” said Bethan as the old man appeared behind Spitemorta. “did you hear what she just said to me?”

“No, but I can’t begin to imagine what she was doing in the chicken house.”

Bethan folded her arms and looked Spitemorta in the eye. “Well since I can’t begin to believe what you just told me, dear, why don’t you be so kind as to tell him what it was?”

“It’s quite simple. I’m queen and you’re in my house.”

“Minuet is queen, and I’m queen mother. I raised the queen and her two children. This is my house. Razzmorten and the crown gave it to me.”

Spitemorta let out a whoop of laughter and stopped. “Minuet is dead, dead, dead and you may be lucky enough to be the hired help in my house, if you don’t get carried away,” she said with a satiny rustle as she stepped into the doorway and pushed past Bethan.

“Now look ‘ee here, child! Queen Minuet and Razzmorten saw us just days ago, and she certainly was queen then…”

“Yea? My soldiers found them dead of the plague when we destroyed Castle Niarg, what, yesterday? And my mother grew up in this house, so it’s mine.”

Bethan went apoplectically wide eyed. “You’re Queen Spitemorta!” she gasped.

“It is Bethan’s house,” said Peredur as he steadied himself, stepping inside, “and I’m to live out my days here, too.”

“Which could be up any moment from what I see,” said Spitemorta as she picked up a piece of steak and took a bite.

“That won’t hold up before the Bench,” said Peredur.

“Queen’s Bench,” said Spitemorta with a cherubic smile and another bite.

Bethan caught his eye and shook her head.

“If you’re a willing part of my loyal service, you’ll be alive to wait on me when I come back to stay.”

“At your service, Your Majesty,” said Bethan with a heavy curtsey.

“At your service,” said Peredur with a bow.

Spitemorta stepped out into the grass and mounted the Staff. “Ta-Ta,” she said and flew away into the morning sky.

“My word!” said Peredur as they watched from the doorway. “That witch! What have we got into?”

“Something you and I are going to live through, that’s what.”

 

Ch. 5, The Reaper Witch, book five of Heart of the Staff: The Complete Series

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Carol Marrs Phipps and Tom Phipps

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The Howlies Might not Like Herio’s Talking with Rocks

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Not being let out of the cave by the great silvery blue eyed howlie was startling enough for Herio and Philpott, but being held captive by the giants for well over a week was an ordeal. At first it was just the pair whose tracks they had followed, who squatted outside in the pouring rain, keeping them from running away, but in the moonlight of the following nights, they heard eerie howls echoing away over the rocky countryside, and each morning they would see giants which they had not seen before, milling about or squatted on the rocks, just outside.

This morning, when Herio awoke to the calls of a sunset thrasher, he realized that they were awfully close to the mouth of cave and sat up at once. When he saw that no big creature was sitting just outside, he sprang to his feet and peered out to find the biggest collection of howlies he had yet seen. “Damn!” he muttered quietly as he began counting.

“How many this time?” said Philpott, sitting up on his pallet.

“I’m not sure whether I see fifteen or sixteen. One of them is half grown and three or four of them are carrying babies. I’m not counting the babies.”

“Any sign of the unicorns?”

Herio stepped back inside, shaking his head as he squatted to pick up his leather water bottle before flinging it aside.

“After eight days, I’m surprised you even picked it up.”

“Yea? Well after eight days, I don’t see how a fellow could keep from it.”

“So how far away from the cave are they?” said Philpott. “Any chance that we could make a run for it?”

“They’d get us. There are just too many, and they’ve got us blocked every direction you want to look. Besides, this is pretty open country, even with all of the rocks. We’d have to know our unicorns were waiting for us or they’d just run us down. They’ve probably eaten them by now, anyway.”

“I doubt it, truth to tell,” said Philpott, picking up the bottle for a look of his own. “I mean, if they were going to eat them, don’t you reckon they’d just sit out there where they could keep an eye on us and champ away?”

“All right. So why did they bother to run off our unicorns, and why are they keeping us here in the first place?”

“To teach us a lesson, maybe. They’ve already made it clear as a bell that they don’t want us grazing that pasture.”

“You reckon they’re actually enough like us to try teaching us by holding us captive?”

“They just might be, Herio. I swear that they spend as much time shaking their hands at each other as people do a-talking. They just might have something in mind for us.”

“Starvation, I’d say. Do you have any idea about what they’re saying with their hands?”

“You can go a good while without victuals. Forty days or better. But they’re going to have to let us drink. It won’t take too many days to kill us. And no, I don’t understand a bit of it. I notice when they repeat some things, but I don’t understand any of it. However, we understood their drawings ‘way back at the sheep shed. What are you doing?”

“Smoothing out a place to draw a picture.”

“Very well…”

Herio waited until one of the giants looked their way and waved his arms. “Hey!” he hollered.

The giant shook his fist.

“That doesn’t look good at all,” said Philpott. “You might want to try something else.”

“This ought to do it,” said Herio, picking up a rock.

“Whoa! I wouldn’t risk a lesson in manners from one of those curses. They might not like our talking with rocks. Why not do it their way? If they’re too far away for pictures and fingers, they howl, don’t they?”

Herio put down his rock and thought about it for a moment. Suddenly cupped his hands to the sides of his mouth, drew a great breath and bellowed out a tenor version of the howlies’ moonlit night wail. It sounded much more like a wolf than a howlie, but by the time he had put down his hands, all sixteen giants had converged on him, huffing and stinking of sulphury musk. “Aah!” he said, patting his stomach and pointing into his mouth as he made gulping noises. But before he could drop to his knees with his stick to draw, they had Philpott and him by the arms, ushering them down the hillside at a jog, hiking them up and over rocks as if they were toddlers. And a long way it was, too, stumbling to keep up with their great hairy-legged strides.

Far down the slope was a wooded ravine. When they came to the bank of a fast stream, the howlies let go of them at the water’s edge, where they fell to their hands and knees at once and drank. The moment Herio sat up on his haunches and wiped his mouth on his arm, the blue eyed howlie threw down their water bottles with a grunt. “Philpott, look!” said Herio. “I’d never dream that old Blue Eye would know what those are for.”

“Yea,” said Philpott. “Makes ye wonder what else they’ve figured out.”

“I hope they figure out that we’re hungry.”

“Well you’re good at this. Tell them.”

Blue eye squatted behind Herio and studied him.

“Well Blue Eye,” said Herio as he carefully turned about to face the giant. “I wish I knew how to thank you for the water, but maybe I can show you that we’re hungry.” He gave a moan and rubbed his belly.

“Hmmmp,” rumbled Blue Eye as he waddled closer to look him up and down.

“Mmm!” said Herio as he pantomimed  grabbing up something and chewing on it with lots of exaggerated champing.

Blue Eye knitted his brow and sat back on his rump as he thought this over. “Hmmmp,” he rumbled as he picked his nose and resumed looking Herio over with studious consideration.

Herio rubbed his belly again and champed his teeth.

Suddenly, Blue Eye was on his feet, jostling a couple of other howlies and making signs with his hands.

ac3a7ad3cbcb“Did you see that?” said Philpott with a nod at the howlies as he bunged his water bag.

“What?” said Herio as he watched Blue Eye and the other giants wade into the water.

“Oh never mind.”

The howlies waded slowly about in the water for some time, pausing here and there to grab at things along the bottom. By now, Herio and Philpott and all of the howlies not fishing were sitting on the bank, watching Blue Eye and listening to a water thrush singing in the willows. A grebe surfaced just beyond the bank, saw that it had an audience and ducked back under water.

so-cal-bigfoot“He was!” said Philpott, the moment he saw for certain that the howlies were fishing. “I’d have sworn Blue Eye was making hand signs for ‘fish’ before they waded in. They just got one. That is what they’re doing.”

Presently Blue Eye stepped out of the water with a wriggling catfish in each hand, giving one to Herio and the other one to Philpott. They were trying figure out how to show that they were properly pleased when the other two howlies climbed out and shared a fish with Blue Eye. The howlies each bit the heads of their respective fish to kill them, and then wolfed down hungry bites, watching to see how Herio and Philpott liked theirs.

“You said you were hungry,” said Philpott, “but are you ready for raw fish, innards and all?”

“I’ve got my flint and striker,” said Herio. “What do you reckon they’ll do if I try to use them?”

“Try it.”

Herio handed his fish to Philpott and scraped up a little pile of dry cottonwood leaves, crumbled up some of them and began striking his flint. At once all sixteen howlies crowded in close to watch every single move he made. He blew a faint stream of his breath where his sparks were landing.

Suddenly the howlies gasped and backed away wide eyed at the first curl of smoke. Herio kept striking and huffing as they crept back close to see. Directly he was feeding twigs into the first wee flame. Philpot took his knife and cleaned the fish. He paused at the sight of a female with a toddler on her hip, eyeing where the fish head and entrails had just dropped into the leaves. When he held them out to her, she snatched them away at once, shared them with her child and hunkered back to the fire, licking her fingers. Herio impaled the first fish and held it into the flames. Blue Eye waddled in close, craning to behold in wonder the fish in the flames and then Herio’s face, then his hands and then the sizzling fish again.

“Mmm!” said Herio, sampling the fish. He held out a pinch of it to Blue Eye.

Blue Eye gaped in awe and put the fish into his mouth for a thoughtful moment. “Vooove!” he boomed. “Oooooh!”

Herio and Philpott had no sooner divvied out all their catfish than they found themselves being plied with more wriggling fish. After an unexpectedly long meal, Herio and Philpott caught each other’s eye, rose without a word and made their way back to their cave with all sixteen howlies following reverently on their heels.

Ch. 9, Doom in  Heart of the Staff: the complete series

Doom

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Carol Marrs Phipps and Tom Phipps

Heart of the Staff Complete Series Box (1)

 

Abaddon Thinks Ariel is the Prettiest Little Girl He has Ever Seen

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The sudden cry of an infant across the camp caught Abaddon’s attention. “That must be one of Lukus and Soraya’s twins,” he said, turning to James. “Have you seen them, yet? Ariel, the little girl is the prettiest thing I’ve ever seen. It’s a good job that Momma and Nanna Demonica don’t know about them, don’t you know?”

elf child 2

“Why’s that?”

“You really don’t know?” said Abaddon with a flicker of his old scorn. “They think Lukus and Soraya are dead. The last thing they want is for them to live and have a baby ’cause of the proper scene. You know, the proper scene. It’s real important, but what is it?”

For a moment he had everyone.

“Prophecy?” said Owain with a respectfully knitted brow as he stepped forth to spit in the fire.

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“Oh,” said James. “Well. It’s when some great seer predicts that something is going to happen in the future. The prophesy that I think you must have heard your momma and nana talking about was made years ago by the Elves.”

“So, what is it?”

“It says that the child born of a Human and an Elf will destroy the Heart and the Staff and the evil foe who tried to wield them.”

Abaddon stared away in awe at Soraya soothing Ariel. “No wonder,” he murmured.

Ch 34, The Burgeoning

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Carol Marrs Phipps and Tom Phipps

 

It will Take Daniel and Ariel to Save the World from Spitemorta and Demonica

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“Grandfather?” said Rose.medieval-woman-with-long-hair

“Yes?”

“Do you and King Neron think war is unavoidable?”

Razzmorten sighed and looked at her with a grave face. “Without a miracle, yes indeed,” he answered.

“Thank you for being straight with me, Grandfather,” she said as she cast a worried look at Fuzz. “We’d feared it would be so, but we were hoping that, you know, with the Elves being Elves…”

“Sure. You’d hoped they’d have some magical and quick solution.”tumblr_mc7pq21lbC1qmtdyso1_500

“Yes.”

“Rose, I’m afraid that even though the solution will indeed be magical, it will not be at all quick.”

“Grandfather! It sounds as if you know how to stop this war.”

“Yes I do, Rose, but it is neither in my power nor that of the Elves.”

“Then, who can possibly do it?” she said, as Mystique traded places walking in the path with Abracadabra.

“Oh, Daniel or possibly Ariel, or perhaps both of them together…”img-thing

“But they’re babies!” she said with a gasp.  “It’ll be years before they’re old enough to do such a thing. What’ll be left of the world?”

Bede on his deathbed completing his translation of St. John’s Gospel, by James Doyle Penrose (1902)

“Not much as we now know it, I fear,” he said, bearing the most haunted look she had ever seen come from his kindly and steadfastly optimistic old eyes, “not much at all.”

 

 

Ch 31, Stone Heart

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Carol Marrs Phipps and Tom Phipps

 

Neron Knew all Along

 

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“Wizards. You’re joking,” said Lukus as he stared in disbelief across the table at King Neron. “Daniel and Ariel are just babies.”84526848

“At the moment, they are not yet wizards,” said Neron, “for as you say, they are babies. But as they grow up, they will indeed become wizards. When they’re older, they’ll come into their magic, and it’s absolutely vital that they begin learning to use and control it the moment you realize it has appeared. They will be more powerful than anyone has ever been before, even more powerful than the First Wizard.”

“Because there are two of them?”

“No, because you aren’t an ordinary Human, Lukus. You’re becoming a strong wizard in your own right, even if you’ve only begun your training. All Human wizards descend from the First Wizard, as you know. Your having children by an Elf, particularly one with a lineage as exceptionally endowed with magical ability as Soraya’s, means that those medievalmenswear13children cannot help but be the most magically gifted beings who’ve ever been born. They will be a favorable match for the evil that has recently been loosed upon the Continent.”

“But, Spitemorta and Demonica have the Great Staff and the Heart,” said Lukus.

“Yes,” said Neron, “right powerful objects indeed, created by the First Wizard, who was the most powerful until now…”

“You knew this,” said Lukus. “You knew this back when Rose and I first came to these woods. Danneth said something back then that stayed with me. He said: ‘then it is time.’ This is what he was talking about, isn’t it? Does Soraya know this, too? Is that why she married me, so that we could breed wizards for this evil age?”

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Neron’s eyes flashed. “I see why you say this, Lukus,” he said, at once letting go of what had just flared as he sagged with a heavy sigh. “Would I do that to my own kin? I make mistakes, but have you truly seen me do things that would lead you to such an accusation? Things have come to pass due entirely to the Fates and to circumstance. We saw it coming, Lukus. That much is true, but we manipulated nothing. We had nothing, absolutely nothing to do with you and Soraya meeting and forming a heart bond. This I swear unto you: she loves you freely and unconditionally. Please, never mistake that. It article-2528305-1A43A85C00000578-700_306x423istrue that when the bond between you was certain, we knew that things which could not bechanged had been set into motion on this path, but knowing it is not the same as causing it. You must understand that. I’m only telling you this now because you have to be told.Would you have had me tell you early on and risk injuring the love which was unfolding between you and Soraya?”

“I’m sorry,” said Lukus, slumping back against his chair. “I am indeed very sorry. Please do forgive me. You’ve been nothing but fair and wonderful the entire time I’ve known you. I’d not have had you do anything different than what you’ve done. It’s what you have to say that scares me. I fear for my children. They’re in danger, aren’t they?”

“From the moment they were conceived,” said Neron. “Until the evil ones and the Heart and the Staff are destroyed, Daniel and Ariel will live in the shadow of peril. Our single most important mission of all is to keep them safe.”

Ch 34, Stone Heart

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Carol Marrs Phipps and Tom Phipps

 

Ariel and Abaddon have a Heart Bond

 

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Lukus paused to listen to the rain of clicks and squawks from the oilbirds in the countless chinks and ledges throughout the gargantuan vault of cave ceiling over Gerddi Teg, kept daylight bright by glow lichens. He threw his panniers across Starfire’s rump, checked Shimmer’s girth and went back inside the cottage he and Soraya had spent the summer in.

“Your bags ready?” he said, hefting Soraya’s tightly packed panniers.”

“Tied tight and buckled,” she said from the next room.

“I guess I’m asking if we’re forgetting anything,” he said.

“We can’t be,” she said, walking in. “We’re still here, and nothing’s ever forgot until you get down the road and remember.”

“Yea. like one of the kids, or something.”

“No worry then,” she said with her serious face. “Grandfather would send us right back.”

“And not wait for us to catch up again.”

“Nope!” she said, erupting with laughter. “Not after we forget our own babaí.”

“You are the most gorgeous thing I’ve ever seen when you laugh,” he said, scooping her into a sound hug. “And you’ve been mighty sober lately.”

“Yea,” she said, standing arm in arm with him as they looked out the open door. “It’s kind of hard to leave a peaceful place after what we’ve been through. And the thought of being out in the open with Daniel and Ariel makes me feel, well, exposed.”

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Lukus watched Abaddon in the yard, playing dragon and giving rides to Daniel and Ariel. “You know, they could really get hurt,” he said.

“From piggyback rides?” she said. “His piggyback rides? He is the gentlest boy I ever saw play with little kids, especially with Ariel.”

“They could still get hurt.”

“What is this?” she said. “The worst that would happen from some unlikely stupidity of his would be nothing more than a scrape or a knot on the head of one of them. And you’re not stupid, so why is this bothering you?”

“I know he has been good with them, but he is Spitemorta’s son…”

“And King James’s. And I’ve not heard you say anything but good about James.”

“And Abaddon is very magically gifted. He’s been good all summer, but what if he surprises us and turns out like the rest of his line back through Demonica? That’s a dark lineage.”

“Daniel and Ariel trust him…”

“So what?” he said, as he quietly pushed the door most of the way closed. “Children don’t have the experience and judgment to keep from being taken in by some…”

“Human children. And ours are half Elf, actually better than half, since you have Elf behind you…”

“But lately he finds a way to be here every single day. For a boy his age, isn’t that…?”

Soraya put her finger to his lips, kissed him on the cheek and closed the door. “I just became certain of something this very day,” she said, turning back to him.

“My word, what?”

“Ariel and Abaddon have a heart bond.”

“Fates! What if he’s evil?”

“I suppose it’s possible, but I’ve never ever heard of a heart bond between Elf and an evil…”

“When did it happen? Are you certain?”

“No one knows when a heart bond actually begins, Lukus,” she said as she took his hand. “I mean, when did ours begin? But it is completely out of anyone’s control, as you well know. And I’m so very sorry you’re troubled by this. I think Abaddon’s simply wonderful and I can’t imagine that he would ever harm either one of them.”

“I hope you are right. Because if he ever does, I swear I’ll fix him.”

“And with my help, dear,” she said.

“There goes Arwr,” said Lukus.

Abaddon shot to his feet at once, whistling and waving his arms.

Arwr came to a springy halt some distance away and jogged back.

Abaddon wheeled about and scooped Ariel off the ground, giving her a grand giggly hug before setting her back down. “Bye Ariel!” he cried before dashing through the gate. “Bye Daniel!”

“Abaddon!” cried Ariel, trotting to the gate.

Abaddon stopped and turned back. “We’ll be together before the day’s over!” he hollered with a wave.

“See you!” she cried with a great bounce of her curls as he dashed away and sprang astride Arwr. She stood waving until Abaddon and Arwr had vanished between the cottages across the common.

Soraya squeezed Lukus’s arm as she put her head against his shoulder.

Ch 24, The Reaper Witch

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Carol Marrs Phipps and Tom Phipps