Please don’t tell anyone, but my three book series, Seals of the Ages is complete. The last book, Riddle of the Keep, is back from editing, and will be available in the next few weeks.
The first two, The Druid and the Flower, and Ashima take the reader on a special journey, some hundred years or so after the world collapses from an economic disaster. The few who remain build a new world, only to find that the remnants of the past cannot so easily be put aside. Each book stands on its own story, no cliffhangers at the end. That cannot be said about the end of any chapter, as each give good reason to jump into the next.
In the final book, Magic has come to humanity. But the Seals that were there to protect this newly healed world are about to fail. What was old must become new again; what was hidden must be show. An evil force wants nothing more than total destruction; one man, the Druid, and his small band of followers are the only obstacle in its way.
Loss, love, adventure, betrayal, Magic, conflict, soul gripping choices, and that’s just the first few chapters. So please, don’t tell anyone. Here is how the last book starts.
Chapter 1 – The Hunt
From the Book of Last Days
What is the greater sorrow?
Is it when many grieve for the one,
or when one must grieve for the many?
“Sean, let me go with you, please?”
“For the umpteenth time, no.”
Brendan rubbed the horse’s nose. “He’s going to miss me. How’s he going to get a carrot without me around?”
Sean tightened the cinch strap. “You spoil him. He needs a rest from all your carrots.” The look on Brendan’s face told him he had said enough.
Brendan’s head went down. “Oh, come on. Let me come. Jason won’t mind.” He looked over at Jason, who was already in the saddle. “Will you?”
Jason looked down at Sean, and then back to Brendan. “It’s your brother’s decision. I would take you any—”
“No. How many times do I have to say it?”
Brendan kicked the ground and ran off, as his father and mother came out the door. His mother grabbed him and gave him a hug. “It’s okay, sweetie. We’ll make a rhubarb pie, and you can have all you want.”
“I don’t want any rhubarb pie. He’s mean. I hate him. And I hate his horse.” He tore away from his mother and ran inside the house.
“I’ll go talk to him,” Sean said.
“You’ve done enough,” his father put his hand up. “He’ll be fine.”
“Sorry.” Sean hung his head.
“He just wanted to go hunting with his big brother,” his mother added. “What do you expect when you tell him all those stories?”
“Next time. I promise.”
His parents exchanged glances. “The two of you go on,” his mother said.
Sean kissed his mom on the cheek and gave a shame-filled glance to his father. His father patted his shoulder. “Have a successful hunt.”
Sean and Jason headed off.
“Hey, Sean,” his father called. “Don’t forget about the vest.”
The hunting had turned out more successful than planned. They got what they needed a few days ahead of schedule.
And last evening they had celebrated his birthday and the success of the hunt. He wore the vest as he had promised his father and mother. It was a vest that held a secret, a most important secret, they had informed him, which was why his father had reminded him to wear it on his twenty-first birthday.
What a disturbing dream, but in some strange manner it wasn’t a dream. It came from the real world, from events he had lived; yet another part of him told him he could not have done so. His parents said there would be more to explain when he returned. There were things he needed to know and see, but first he must experience the knowledge of the vest. The vest was passing along real memories, impossible memories.
What the hell did castles have to do with what he needed to know? There were certainly no castles around here, or anywhere else in the world he knew of. The old Ruins were the remnants of a castle. When it had been built or who built it was now lost to the ages. His mother used to read them stories of those lost ages, stories filled with incredible technology: flying machines, boats that went under water, weapons of immense power, which in the end all but obliterated that age. It was hard now to tell the facts from the myth. His world had none of that; the most powerful weapon now was a sword or a bow. Of course, Magic was a whole other matter.
He chuckled. All this was probably a side effect from Jason’s bad cooking. He looked over to where Jason still snored on the other side of the small fire pit, a pit barely holding on to its last smoldering coals. He tossed a few pieces of wood and the fire started up again; a few larger pieces, and it was back to being a productive fire, chewing at the wood like an animal who hadn’t eaten for a long time. He grabbed the kettle, and walked down to the river. A morning wash was in order; the water was invigorating on his hands and face, with one last scoop of water back over his hair.
Such great autumn colors, the deep red of the oak leaves and the yellow of the birch stood out against the stands of evergreens and the rolling hills on the other side of the river. The oak looked stately and strong, which was why he preferred it when he needed to craft any intricate designs in his woodworking projects; its strength made it easy to work with.
Mixed in with the oak trees was a smattering of maples; that wood was hard and difficult to mold, but he so loved the fine grain, a grain that made any piece of furniture stand out. A few elms with their purple hue stood in a stately pose close to the riverbank; they added a special beauty to the landscape, and held a color in contrast to the reds, yellows, and orange that dominated the area. Farther down the river a young buck was taking a drink. On either side of the buck, a number of small trails went off into the woods, no doubt used by the local fauna to access the river. He wanted to stand there and take it all in until the sun went down. The buck lifted his head, caught a glimpse of him and darted back into the woods, a clear indication that he too should get on his way.
It was sudden and real, another flash inside his head, a blue light blocking the entrance to that castle door. Someone was there outside the door, someone he knew, but older … no, younger. It made no sense, two men in the same place, a younger and older version of the same person, someone he knew … get a grip. Okay, he would do the cooking from now on.
Could it really be that the vest was planting memories inside his head? His father had explained there would be things to show him on his return, things that made up his heritage.
He filled the kettle and headed back, placed it on the fire, and readied the dark roasted beans for a morning brew. He smiled. His mother had ground the beans for him, saying he would be too sleepy to do it himself. He glanced at where the bucks were skinned and drained, hanging high as they cured, the skins drying nearby in the crisp autumn air.
Jason sat up. “Mornin’. Brew ready?”
“Slow down, big fella,” Sean answered. “I was up half the night keeping the fire going so you wouldn’t freeze to death.”
“You just like watching the stars,” Jason said. “And you need me for an excuse.”
“Watching stars. It’s amazing I could see any with the noise hammering my head from your snoring,” Sean said. “I did have some weird dreams, however.”
Jason made his way to the river for his wake-up wash. Sean had the morning brew made and poured when he returned. “Here you go.”
Jason took the mug and sat on a piece of log near the fire. “That dream of yours … you probably had a nightmare about the last buck we took down.”
Sean bowed his head. “Ya, I felt bad about that one. Didn’t know he had a buddy.”
“They all have buddies, or mates, or parents, or whatever bucks have. He’s food, not fun, you know that.” Jason took a gulp of his brew, and threw a piece of wood on the fire.
“I know. Still, the other buck looked at me as his buddy fell, daring me to kill him as well; it was not one of my finer moments.” He looked over to where the venison hung. He had insisted he skin and prepare him alone, and Jason had accepted what he’d needed to do.
“Look, you and I know that if we find a fawn while on the hunt it’s going home with you; that goes for lost young wolves, foxes, wild turkeys, and even baby skunks, not to mention the blinker. Your brain might be six feet above the ground, but your heart is much closer. And if my memory is correct, I’ve been on hunts with you where each of those events has happened.” Jason refilled his mug, and topped off Sean’s. “So don’t be too hard on yourself. Killing’s hard stuff, but necessary.”
“Ya, I suppose you’re right … I’d almost forgotten about that blinker mouse.” He shook his head. “Sniffy … ya, Sniffy. He loved to disappear and then reappear again. That mouse knew he had Magic. He hung around for quite some time before my dad made me let him go.”
“I wonder why,” Jason said. “One second he would be on the floor, and the next second he could be in one of your pockets looking for a treat.” A hot spark flew down near his boot. He stomped it out. “Well, all the meat we need is hanging over there. You want to head back home?”
“Hell, no. Plus the meat can drain for a couple of days in this cold. And it’s my birthday week,” Sean answered. “I could stay out here forever. You got something you need to get back to?”
“All right, then. It’s not our fault we’re such good hunters.” Jason laughed. “And our families don’t expect us back for another couple of days … you going to tell them you’re moving out?”
“I’m not moving out. Just need a place of my own. A room next to the wood shop. I want some alone time.”
“Try living at my place. Even the house gets into the screaming,” Jason said.
“Would drive me crazy.”
“I love it. It’s my family. Been that way all my life.”
Sean shook his head. “I just need alone time. Or maybe I’m selfish.”
“What do you want for breakfast? Bacon, or bacon? Eggs, or eggs?” Jason returned with a cast-iron frying pan, ample strips of bacon, and one big hand cradling four eggs, with room to spare for another one or two.
“I love my family, too. But it’s time to get out on my own.”
“We are out on our own. Even have to cook our own breakfast. You made the brew, I’ll make the breakfast. Sit back and be alone while I cook you up a feast … Oh, what was that dream of yours? About women, I hope, and one of them playing with that curly hair of yours.”
“Nothing so exciting. It wasn’t a dream. I thought so at first, but no. This was different. It’s still there—a vivid memory of an enormous stone building, like a castle. Magic, of some sort, was at play, and a person who was both young and old. And, get this, I was totally aware of why he was that way.”
“Must be my cooking,” Jason said.
Sean laughed. “Now, there’s a thought.”
They finished breakfast, cleaned up, fed the horses and the pack animals, checked the meat and hides, and replenished the wood supply for their fire.
Sean had already tucked his birthday vest back inside his pack, so as not to soil it. An older, darker-colored vest now covered his shirt, one more suitable for hunting and working.
By midday, minus their bows, they were back out tracking animals, with a minimal invasion of the animals’ habitat, as their real hunting was over. Late afternoon they went for a ride along the river, did a little fishing, and carried back a few hardy brook trout for dinner. As the sun dipped to the west they were back at the fire, each with an ale in hand.
“What’s next for you?” Jason asked. “Set up a woodworking shop here in good old North Wind Clearing?”
Sean clinked his mug against Jason’s before he took a swallow. “Well, maybe that trip we talked about.”
“Ya. Check out the craft schools, learn a little more about woodworking, maybe metallurgy—I could use a good sword. Plus, it’s time I saw a big city. Time you did.”
Jason nodded. “I’m in. But Vera’s not going to like it.”
“We’re just friends.”
“You might want to let her know that,” Jason said. “My guess is she sees it differently.”
“I’ll talk to her before we go … It’s time we both went our own way.” Sean took a long measure of his ale. “I hate confrontation.”
“If you’d stick to an ale and a kiss only now and again, you wouldn’t be in this mess. And more ale than kisses.” Jason had a grin on his face that lit up like a harvest moon. “We’re both destined to inherit our farms from our fathers, so I say we get a year or two of travel in before we fulfill our duties.”
“Oh, I know what’s expected of me. But maybe I can do more with woodworking than I can with a farm. Maybe my little brother should get the farm; he loves the place even more than I do.”
“He loves his big brother. We should have brought him along; you—”
“No, he would have been a nuisance,” Sean said.
“Okay, okay. Someone is feeling too smothered by his family.”
“Sorry. I love him. I love them all. But I need to be alone for a while and sort out my life.”
“Hey.” Jason picked up the keg and refilled Sean’s mug. “This is getting way too serious.” He raised his mug. “To adventure, ales, and new kisses.”
Sean took another long gulp. His friend’s heart was as big as he was tall and broad. And his friend loved to hunt as much as he did. Leather boots up to the knees, a knife tucked in the right one, pants down inside the boots, a leather belt and a leather tunic; he very much looked the part of a hunter. Best friends didn’t come any better. “You’re the best.” He held up his mug. “And to my family, may they always know I love them and never know that they love a selfish brat.”
A few days later and their week of hunting was over, the time gone by much too quickly, and the last few days a grand vacation; they were now on their way home. He should be jubilant, and he was, but as he rode along he could not shake the notion that something was amiss. What could be wrong?
He let go of the feeling, hummed a song as the horses trotted along. There was nothing to worry about—a beautiful day, an easy gait for the stallions. He would have his own place, talk to Vera, and maybe find some woodworking course in Port Tern.
It was a little before noon when they arrived at the diverging path that gave them each a different direction home. They split the meat and pelts, slapped each other on the back, gave hugs that comrades would give to comrades, and headed off on their separate ways.
Sean smiled now as he rode on alone; a picture of his family came into focus. He would soon show them the bounty of his efforts; they would be pleased, and later, just before bedtime, he would share the stories of the hunt with his little brother.
The familiar smell of the cool salt air hit him as he turned around the last set of hills. He halted his horse and pack mule and took a deep breath. “Ah.” He patted his stallion on the neck and continued on past the huge lake where he often fished. Maybe he would take his brother fishing tomorrow, after all the chores were done. His brother was such a pest, but he loved him more than life itself. He knew he should be spending more time with him, and he would from now on; it was one of the things he had promised himself as he sat around the fire pondering his next journey. Down a low hill, and the road allowed him a glimpse of the ocean. He was almost home.
He entered the Bearagan farmstead and dismounted; odd, a dead silence. Where was Frizzy? She should have barked her welcome by now. Blood all over the steps leading to the house. Something was wrong, very wrong. The main door stood open. He ran inside. It was as cold inside the house as outside. The door had been open for some time. More blood, Brendan on the floor. Sean’s legs gave way, and he crumpled to his knees. “Nooooooo…” His brother’s face was cold to the touch, the color gone from his cheeks. So much blood; where had it all come from? There, a stab wound, and another, stab wounds all over his small body. The tears came, streaming down his face. What had happened? His heart pounded; he shook his head and rubbed the tears away. His mother had slid down the wall, one hand still holding a knife, blood on the wall, one of her arms completely cut off. Should he pick it up? Oh, dear gods! His two sisters lay nearby, their hair matted with even more blood. They had suffered the same fate. A few inches from his older sister’s head, a hair band sat in a pool of blood. He looked down again and touched his brother’s chest; bending low he kissed his forehead. The rusty essence of blood saturated the air. He sat back on his heels and shut his eyes. He gulped, pain exploding in his chest; a silent scream made his head pound even more, forced his mouth wide open, his face arcing to the ceiling. He rocked back and forth, holding on to his brother, forced his eyes open again and stared at the scene, helplessly transfixed in some impossible moment that would not pass. He wiped more tears from his face.
He looked from one family member to another. A jolt of realization hit him; his father was not here. He pushed to his feet, and rushed from room to room. “Dad … Dad?” He continued calling as he wandered from the house to the barn, and there he stopped abruptly, one more scene straining to break his grip on reality—his father lying faceup on the ground, sword in hand. Beside him, Frizzy lay on her side, blood on her maw, her fur covered in blood. He fell to his knees for a second time, picked up the sword, and gently placed his father’s hand upon his chest to meet the other hand already there. He held the sword against his own chest, opened his mouth, and looked up, making no sound other than a desperate release of air.
He could tell from the freshness of the blood that they had been killed only hours before, sometime before the light of morning. A broken lantern lay next to his father’s body. It had all happened at a time when he should have been here to help protect them.
He cried some more for them, and then he cried for himself. His selfish act would forever haunt him.