Niarg has fallen to the dark sorceresses Demonica and Queen Spitemorta. The dragons have fled from their caves. Confident that Queen Minuet and Wizard Razzmorten are dead, and that the trolls have eaten every breathing Elf, Spitemorta brings down the last hamlets of the Northern Continent as she prepares to conquer the rest of the world.
But Queen Minuet and Wizard Razzmorten do live and are hiding in the crater of Mount Bedd with the Fairy guardians of the Forest Primeval, where they wait for what remains of their army before fleeing to the Black Desert to live beneath its burning sands with the dragons and all of the Elves who escaped Demonica’s great troll raid, down their hidden river.
Is this truly the end of Niarg and freedom everywhere in world? Can Elves, dragons and men live outside her bondage, or will the Reaper Witch find them and enslave them once and for all?
First Customer Review:
5.0 out of 5 stars The Reaper Witch (Heart of the Staff) October 19, 2013
I loved it and can’t wait for more from this team of authors.
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Chimney swifts twittered and darted about in the air above the blackened walls of Castle Goll. With a duet of plummeting screams, Demonica and Spitemorta suddenly tumbled out of the air where Spitemorta’s bower should have been, landing with arm-flailing rag doll bounces in an explosion of deep soot and terrified chickens at the bottomof the castle’s gonne powder crater.
“Aagh! Aagh!” cried out Spitemorta in anguished gasps, struggling to pull away from her legs on her elbows. “Damn it! Grandmother! Help!”
Demonica opened her eyes. When she had recovered enough to breathe again, she lifted her ears out of the featherbed of lampblack ash.
“Please, Grandmother!” wailed Spitemorta. “I hurt!”
Demonica sat up, suddenly feeling about herself for the Heart. “Ha!” she cried. “Splendid! We just might be in good shape.”
“No we’re not!” whimpered Spitemorta. “My legs! I hurt!”
Demonica got onto her knees and stumped over for a look. “Well I should say,” she said, whisking at herself. “Your legs are certainly bent in places that never have knees. And that crumpled armor simply complicated your fall, didn’t it?”
“Please, damn you! Use the Heart!”
Demonica got to her feet, straightened her skirts and continued whisking. “You’ll just have to be patient, dear,” she said as if Spitemorta were merely waiting for a spoon of icing from a mixing bowl. She pulled out a pouch from her panniers and fiddled with its strings. She removed the Heart, studied it for a moment, then knelt with it and began running it along the length of Spitemorta’s broken legs. “Well,” she said at last, as she stood up and put away the fading red crystal, “I can’t imagine why you need to go on caterwauling, dear. You can stand up now.” She turned aside at once and began studying the castle walls, standing charred before the deep blue sky without any remains of floors or roof.
Spitemorta thrust out her chin in bug-eyed silence. She grabbed up the Staff with trembling hands and thrust it at Demonica, blowing her apart with a concussion that fogged the entire crater with a blinding cloud of soot. “Witch!” she screamed in the echoes. “That’s for the rough landing, you know-it-all filth! That’s for my monster twins! That’s for Abaddon and James getting away! That’s for Castle Goll!” She stopped short and listened. “Grandmother?” she hollered. “You can quit playing games, witch! Demonica?” “Oh!” she said, going quiet at the sight of the Heart glowing from the ashes where Demonica had just been standing. She snatched it up at once and smiled, carefully fitting it into its socket on the end of the Staff.
A yellow breasted chat gave a raucous medley of whistles and screeches from the crown of a nearby tree in the pulsing sea of cicada calls as Rose clambered up onto a great tangle of mangrove roots. Her forehead was raw from salt and sunburn, and the scrape down one of her shins from a mangrove root when she left the beach stung endlessly from wading the brackish water of the swamp. Her lips had painful splits and her tongue was sticky in her mouth. She was having moments when it was a struggle to keep from panicking. At the top of the windrow of roots she found a place to sit, listening to the chat. The hair in her face had become intolerable. She ripped a strip from the hem of her dress and tied it back. “That water down there is moving,” she said as she began climbing down to it at once. At the edge of the stream, she reached down between the roots into the languid current and tasted some. “It is!” she cried. “It’s fresh.”
She carefully let her face down to the water and drank. She undid her hair and stuck in her whole head to soothe her forehead. She got herself into a better position so that she could wash the salt from her burning shin. A place on her foot still felt as though it had a thorn in it. She glanced at the sky. “What a relief it’s clouding over,” she said. She studied the water for a bit. “Who knows how deep it is, but maybe it would be safe enough for me to get all the way into it if I hang onto the roots where they go down into the water. Every inch of me is sticky with sweat and salt.” She began undoing her bodice, only to stop short with a gasp at the sight of a huge snake vanishing in rippling Ss under the roots from the open water.
As she was lacing up her front, she looked up and screeched out another gasp, nearly losing her teetering balance on the roots. Before her stood a tiny dark-eyed woman whose alabaster skin had an almost translucent glow about it.
“Who are you?” thought the tiny woman in Rose’s head.
“Aah!” wailed Rose as she grabbed at her ears.
“Why are you here?” thought the little woman in Rose’s head again.
“Are you a wraith?” squeaked Rose.
“Then I must be as frightening to you as you are to me,” thought the woman.
“Well could you please just use ordinary speech? Your speaking in my head is giving me shivery goose-flesh.”
“I don’t know your language.”
“But how do you know what I’m saying?”
“I’m reading your thoughts. I have no idea about your words…”
“Then you must be a wraith or at least a spirit of some kind.”
“Mercy no. I’m a Fire Sprite. I’m called Radella, if you care for my name.”
“Fire Sprite? I’ve never heard the like. What do you have to do with fires?”
“Nothing. When it’s dark, I glow like a firefly. That’s all. And what are you? Are you some kind of Elf? And if you are, what sort of Elf would have ears like a troll? Anything like unto a troll worries me.”
“I’m Rose of the House of Niarg,” she said as she clambered across the roots to offer her hand, “and I’m certainly no Elf, but my dear brother’s married to one.
“Good for your brother,” thought Radella, cocking her head as she took a doubtful step backward, “but just what sort of being did your brother’s wife marry? You still haven’t told me.”
“I’m a Human…”
“So you’re a Human!” thought Radella as she dared to give Rose’s hand a brief touch. She stood back with her hands on her hips. “You’re the very first one of those I’ve managed to see. But you know about Elves, aye? Would you have seen any in this neck of the woods?”
“I’m afraid that I’ve only been here since this morning,” said Rose. “I washed up on the beach from a shipwreck in the night. I hadn’t seen a soul until you. And if you don’t mind telling me, where is this? Where’s Niarg from here?”
“Niarg?” thought Radella. “I have no idea what ‘Niarg’ is.”
“Isn’t this the Northern Continent?”
“I’m not sure what you mean by ‘continent,’ but this land (if that’s what you mean) is usually called Yn Cheer My Hiar.” Rose had a very lost look. “Well once, a very long time ago, there were Elves here who called it Lobhadh…”
“Lobhadh!” cried Rose. “Then we were blown ‘way off course before the ship went down. Lobhadh is the Elven name for what my people call the Eastern Continent…”
“Was the Elven name, you mean,” thought Radella as she planted her fists on her hips again.
“No. They’ve called it Lobhadh ever since every last one of them left here a thousand years ago.”
“So Faragher’s people do live, after all…”
“Yes. Faragher was their king, right before Neron.”
“This is news indeed, but you’re wrong about ‘every last one,’ Rose. There are Elves living this very day some leagues north of here out in the middle of the Great Strah.” thought Radella as she sat beside Rose and studied her face.
“This will be news indeed for the Elves back home,” said Rose.
“So you’re a Human,” thought Radella, pausing to watch something floating out in the water. She looked up suddenly. “And your brother is actually married to one of Faragher’s people, aye? They have children?”
“Then a great evil stalks the land. The Elves are in peril if they’re separated. There’s a prophecy…”
“We’ve heard. And there’s already talk that a pair of evil sorceresses seek the death of the babies and maybe of all the Elves. They want to rule the world. We were at sea because of them.”
“And you fear for your husband,” thought Radella, springing to her feet. “Go find him. It’s nearly evening. It’s time I went as well.”
Rose stood at once and glanced about at the grey sky. “If who is separated,” she said, “the twins or the Elves?” When she looked back, Radella was nowhere in sight. A snow white egret glided over the water and pumped its way up to a branch and settled with something glistening, wiggling in its beak. A crocodile floated along with the current. “Radella?” she hollered. “Radella, I’m lost! Where’s the ocean from here?” She paused in the endless calls of the cicadas, listening within her head for any sort of reply, but the Fire Sprite had indeed vanished altogether.
Bullfrogs were beginning to sing here and there throughout the mangroves. Somewhere close by a green heron went clucking and scolding in a thicket of willows. “Surely I can’t be all that far away from the ocean, even if I don’t see any sign of it,” she said as she looked carefully all about. “After all, I was going along slowly a-looking for water as I came in. Besides, I’m only half lost at the worst. If the coast goes for miles, fully half of the possible directions I could take will eventually end up there.” Her bravery was simply not working. After struggling along for a few dozen rods in a direction that seemed at first like how she might have come, her stomach was all in knots. “Oh Fuzz!” she wailed as she sat down in despair on a fallen tree.
“Rose! Over here!” she thought she might have heard.
She was immediately on her feet, fighting to hear over her heart, pounding in her ears. “Fuzz!” she hollered out with everything she had. She listened. She could certainly hear crows. She might have heard a distant reply. There was no way to be certain. Suddenly there was a flash of something very large and white, bouncing along through the trees, coming right for her. At once an enormous white bird jogged to a halt before her, giving his huge bush of feathers a thorough shake as he flicked his ebony crest and looked her over with a curious black eye.
“Mistress Fuzz!” cried an Elf girl with a sword as she splashed up behind on her muddy little unicorn, dismounting at a run. “Mister Fuzz be right behind!” She dashed aside to give the bird a quick little hug before pausing in her spiked leather tunic and riding breeches to pantomime a deep and proper curtsey for Rose.
Rose could not think of a single thing to say.
The silver haired girl gave Rose a freckled smile, a joyful bounce and sudden hug before stepping aside with a curtsey for Fuzz, as he came at a furious run alongside another great white bird, well ahead of another Elf in spiked leather astride a unicorn.
“Oh Rose!” cried Fuzz, taking her into a whirling embrace.
“You’re my only piece of driftwood in the sea!” she sobbed. She looked up suddenly at the two Elves who were dancing a giddy do-se-do.
“And these two are the most wonderful friends we could ever have,” said Fuzz grandly. “Rose, this young lady is Inney, and this is Tramman…”
“We’re austringas,” said Inney, “and these shawkyn spooghey, these big birds are our bond mates. Sheshey is mine, and Jeelys is Tramman’s. And Sheshey’s the one who really found you.”
“They use them to kill trolls,” said Fuzz. “And would you believe, bond mates can speak to one another without words.”
“It seems I’ve had a bit of that out here myself…” said Rose.
“Actually, it’s rather more like our birds can see what we picture in our minds,” said Tramman.
“Fuzz,” said Rose, stopping short, “what became of Karl-Veur? Did he make it?”
“Oh he’s fine. He’s somewhere on the beach hunting for you with Obbree, whom you’ve yet to meet.”
“That’s wonderful. Did anyone else make it ashore?”
Fuzz shook his head.
“Oh my. Then we three are the luckiest people in the world…”
“Say,” said Fuzz. “what did you mean just now? A bit of what out here yourself?
Speaking without words?”
“I really did, and not long before you found me. The smallest woman I ever saw came upon me, right when I found water. I might have thought she was Elvish, just looking at her ears, but her skin was a kind of eerie frosted white which she claimed would glow in the dark. In fact, she called herself a Fire Sprite…”
“Fire Sprites!” said Tramman. “Sorry. Go on.”
“Well this Fire Sprite talked to me by putting her voice right in my head without speaking a single word. She gave me quite a bad start, right at first.”
“Our Captain of the Austringas is the oldest fellow in Balley Cheerey, where we’re from,” said Tramman as he paused for a brown spit, “and he’s had tales to tell about Fire Sprites. I know he’d want to hear all about this little woman. And I know we haven’t discussed it yet, but unless you know someone’s a-coming by sea to find you, I’ll bet you all will end up coming back to Balley Cheery with us. You’re certainly welcome, what ever you decide.”
Rose and Fuzz shared a look.
“What’s that sound?” said Rose.
“Purple rib,” said Inney. “It’s a bird. They start singing when it gets dark. That one’s pretty early with it still so light. Shouldn’t we start back to the beach?”
“We ought to have a fire when we get back so Obbree and Karl-Veur can find us,” said Tramman.
They started walking at once, picking their way through the tangle of mangrove roots. Rose felt hopeful about the world all over again, holding hands with Fuzz, in spite of her exhaustion and in spite of a growing certainty that it would be a very long time indeed before they ever saw Niarg again.