This morning on Twitter, I offered to my followers and the Writing Community a teaser chapter from my thesis novel By the Stars and Trees. I’m going to give context or preview of the first chapter, because that might impact publishability.
Without much further adieu, here is Chapter Two. Please enjoy.
Tandros awoke in his own bed with no earthly idea on how he had gotten there. His last memory was being of the offered meal at the home of Sylandris the elven mage. His head was pounding, like an army was marching around in his skull banging on kettle drums. The dim light from the window was depressing, but revealed the sorry state of his room, which looked like a tornado had struck. Dust collected on nearly every surface, untouched for weeks if not months. The musty smell of the room, that twinge of sourness in the air made him gag a little.
“Damn that elf to the deepest reaches of Ashemarl!” Tandros said. The anger showed on his features, a burning within his chest and face. The elf had deceived him, an offense that wouldn’t go unremarked, no matter how good his intentions were.
Sitting on the edge of his bed, Tandros blinked his eyes a couple of times to get them to adjust to the dim light of the room. It did him little good to let his anger overtake his senses, there was still much to do. The warning still etched in his mind, drove him from his room, hurrying through the manor. Tandros searched for a larger pack and fresh supplies to last him at least three weeks, this time he would take a horse. The lad was planning to make another go to reach Elvhaven at all costs.
The manor was drafty, and had gone long unrepaired. The dull gray walls covered in an oily film from the torches that dotted the length of the corridors. Portraits, paintings, and tapestries once hung upon these walls are now long gone, or worn away leaving empty frames to hang in their place. Tandros recalled when the estate was alive with music and people, but only he remained.
The ghosts of the past still dwelled within those walls, haunting reminders of the people that built the estate plagued Tandros’s steps. He chose not to dwell on the things that he had lost, focusing on the present and the future yet to come. The servants still moved about silent and unseen, until called upon; but they chose not to change a thing nor bother with the upkeep, following their young master’s lead.
Tandros walked through empty corridors with his head bowed in quiet contemplation and silent repose. The stuffiness of the stagnant air, filling his senses and reminding him of a tomb sealed for eternity. Near total darkness had settled in the nooks, an ever-watchful presence inhabiting whatever spaces that it liked. The floorboard creaked underfoot in places; he was sure that one day they would be replaced. Deep in thought, Tandros made his way toward the front of the house where the servants would be cleaning or at the very least attempting to look busy.
It was approaching midday when Tandros arrived in the foyer, he had wandered aimlessly through dark and dusty corridors and various rooms that haven’t seen the light of day in what must have been years. The sorry state of the place rankled him, though it was as much his fault as it was anyone else’s.
With his gaze downturned, staring at an invisible blemish on the floor, Tandros’s mind kept going back to his encounter with the elven mage. There was something about what happened that troubled him, he knew there was definitely something amiss, but couldn’t quite put his finger on it. It was troubling that the elf lured him into a false sense of security with the free meal ploy, a trick that he should have been prepared for. It was his youth and naivete that blinded him to the things that others do to people. The other thing that bothered him was the elf’s hatred, Tandros could understand why Sylandris hated humans, but it didn’t seem entirely justifiable.
“That bloody bastard used magic on me!” cried Tandros, anger flashing behind his eyes. Renewing his search for the servants, took the lad of Belriq out into the courtyard.
The sun had risen high into the sky, the air was a hum with the buzzing of honeybees through the wildflowers that grew through the cracks in the cobblestones. Far upon the distant horizon, the faint shape of the Fjords of Delis, serving as a reminder of the trouble that was brewing in their shadows.
The Belriq Estate used to be nothing more than outpost for merchants travelling from the Fjords and Bryndlwood to the Far Eastern Wastes. The road may have been hard pack dirt, little more than old farm tract; yet people from all over Vardyn travelled along this route. Behind the massive estate a few acres of fruit trees, beyond that the cliffs and the Cordru Sea.
“Where are all the servants?” Tandros muttered, looking around the courtyard. Growing impatient, Tandros stomped across the cobbles toward the stables. Time was of the essence, he had no time to be running after the help, though he was quite capable of doing everything for himself.
“Gregar? Myra?” he called out, hoping for a response. As Tandros turned the corner, with the stables in sight, he saw Gregar’s bloody corpse. A longsword had skewered that man’s chest, Tandros panicked, uncertain about what had happened and when. He ran calling out for Myra, but she too was dead, Tandros found her body swaying from a branch in the massive white oak. He knew who killed them, it was plain to see; the assassins of the King’s Army had been here at some point.
Looking around fervently, Tandros pulled the sword from Gregar’s corpse; knowing that he’d be only slightly safer than if he had remained unarmed. The panic that he felt in that moment was nearly energizing, as he ran to the barracks on the other side of the estate. There was always a contingent of soldiers loyal to the lord of the estate. Passing by the white oak, he looked up at Myra before climbing up to the branch that the noose was secured to, cutting her down. Her body landed with a sickening thud, Tandros apologized to her as he climbed down out the boughs.
Sheathing the sword through his belt, Tandros ran as fast has his feet would carry him, racing against hope that the barracks would be abuzz with activity, hope that the assassins hadn’t gotten to them too. Tears burned in his eyes, red hot rage filling his chest as if a blacksmith had been at the bellows of his heart. His lungs felt like they were on fire, as he ran with all his might, racing against hope.
“Please, by whatever gods there may be, let the troops be alive!” he said in a silent prayer.
As the barracks came into view, Tandros slowed his run to a jog; sucking in air in gulps as if he had never breathed before. The sounds of swords striking steel and wood filled the air, it was a welcoming noise, filling Tandros with a glimmer of hope. The closer that he got to the building, the louder the sound became; though the lad of Belriq was accustom to the noise of swordplay and the irksome nature of the privatized army, there was something eerie and disquieting about the barracks.
The squat wooden building on the southernmost edge of the estate had once been nothing more than a barn, before Tandros’s father, Esten, had it turned into a home for the soldiers gifted to him by King Teramor after years of loyal service to the crown. The building had undergone many changes over the last twenty-five years, growing in length, the addition of the training yards, an armory, and a stable. Tandros liked the barracks when he was a child, it was like a little castle unto itself in the eyes of a child of five.
Now it looked in the same state as the manor, parts were in such a state of disrepair that it looked like a ghost of its former self. Tandros felt guilty for not keeping up with the repairs of the entire estate, his lack of knowledge of finances, and the inability to find a decent mason, had left him unable to get anything sorted. With Gregar and Myra dead, he didn’t have anyone that could possibly aid him. He felt abandoned.
“Soldiers assemble!” Tandros commanded, his voice echoing in the still air. The ringing of steel stopped, footsteps clapping against the hard-packed ground as a small group of men approached from the barracks.
“My lord Tandros!” the captain called, as he and four others lined up in front of the barracks. The captain appeared out of breath, and quite agitated.
“Captain, where are the rest of the men?” Tandros asked before saying, “I said assemble, and this is what I am met with?”
“Tis all that remains, my lord. The others are dead,” the captain began, “we took care of the attackers, they were Flambeaux’s men, all.”
That piece of news struck Tandros like a ton of bricks, he had suspected that Flambeaux would try to get at him at some point because it was a logical choice. However, Tandros didn’t really give credence to the possible threat.
“Select two men to bury Gregar and Myra,” Tandros said.
“At once, my lord,” replied the captain before turning to what remained of the household guard and giving orders to be carried out.
“Come with me,” Tandros said to the captain before turning on his heels and heading back toward the manor. He didn’t wait for the captain of the guard to follow; he just assumed the man would be behind him. Tandros marched toward the front of the manor, unsure of how to proceed, though he only had one viable option at his disposal; take what he could carry along with what remained of the guard and head straight for Elvhaven.
“What would you have of me, my lord?” asked the captain.
“Once Gregar and Myra are buried, gather all of the horses and supplies for all of us,” Tandros started, “we must ride for Elvhaven immediately, the Elves are out only hope now.” He knew that there was no other choice to be made. It would be dark soon, leaving under the cover of darkness meant that no one would see five riders making for the Fendrynd Forest.
“As you command, my lord. I’ll see to the preparations myself,” was the captains response. He ran back to his men to begin the packing and gathering the horses. The captain was a resolute and loyal soldier, who left nothing to chance. Tandros valued the man, and his advice, he would be needed more now than ever.
Tandros sprinted to the kitchen to gather his own supplies, stuffing everything he could find into three large packs. Assembling rations, weapons, clothes, and plenty of waterskins, in the foyer. Mourning over leaving and the deaths of Gregar and Myra would have to wait, right now getting to Elvhaven took precedence over everything else.
The moon was cresting the horizon as Tandros and company set out from the Belriq Estate, racing across the horizon to reach the dense forest. The troops surrounded Tandros as they rode in formation across the rolling plains, silence wrapped around them like a cloak, each man remaining in silence, reflecting on everything that had happened.
The party slipped over the miles like a shadow. A crispness to the air, chilled Tandros to the bone; he wanted to say something, anything to ease his troubled mind. His focus narrowed to a pinpoint, as he rode his grey mare Tandros pulled his cloak tight around him for warmth, holding the reins for dear life. It had been years since he rode a horse over open terrain, it all came flooding back to him now. The feel of air whistling by, tussling his long brown hair; normally braided now flew about loosely.
With the estate far behind them, the party rode at breakneck speed, driving their mounts toward the forest that lay still several leagues away to the northeast. Each man sensing that there was no time to spare, pushed his mount to its limits; not stopping until they reached the primal forest.
“How much further?” Tandros asked, not seeking an answer to his impatience. Somehow, he knew that if there was answer he wouldn’t like it. The silence had become too unbearable on his already frayed nerves, and yet it was the only thing holding him together. Fear is befallen the riders, as if they were waiting for something terrible to happen.
As the moon crept ever hirer into the velvet dark sky, a sliver of silver illumination lit the way. The riders had ridden for what felt like days, in utter silence and despair. Tandros perked up at the sight of Fendrynd Forest rising on the horizon; he wasn’t the only one to feel a cheerfulness uplifting of spirits when they caught sight of the tree line. Hope and safety were now within their grasp.
Sylandris stood in the middle of the kitchen looking at the two heavy packs, running through a mental checklist to ensure that he hadn’t forgotten anything. For he knew that he needed to be prepared for every scenario; he knew the trek to Elvhaven on foot could be perilous. The elf had plotted the route out in his mind, knowing that it would take him no more than five days if everything went according to plan.
The mage began pacing the room, the only problem was whether to stop near the Cave of Ever-lasting Starlight. The cavern could be a dangerous place for the unwary, countless elves visited the sacred site throughout the year; all because of the gemstones that stud the stone surfaces. It got its name from the way the light caused them to twinkle like stars, even in total darkness. There were more dangerous things in the world than highwaymen and ravenous beasts.
Sylandris left the kitchen, making for the front of the house and the box near the door. As he strode past empty rooms, he regretted not filling them with memories of happier times. The years had not been kind, but they weren’t as bad as they had been to the people had known. At the door, the mage reached for the box where he kept his tobacco and clay pipe. Pulling out the small white clay pipe from the box, he filled it with sweet tobacco before stepping outside. He lit the pipe using magic, it was the cheaters way of lighting a pipe but Sylandris didn’t care; it saved using matches.
The elf sat on the low wooden bench beside the door, taking a deep pull on his pipe and closing his eyes. He let the serene silence wash over him, the cool breeze blowing from the north bringing with it the sweet tang of flowering herbs. It was a pleasant fragrance that permeated the air, reminding the elf that spring was nearly at its end. He mulled over what that savage had said about getting to Elvhaven, it was something that he would look into when he got there.
“Kesit will know if there was any truth in the human’s words,” he said after a moment. Sylandris couldn’t quite shake the feeling that there was more to it than he realized. He scratched the back of his head, thinking about the strangeness of it all; there was still something that rankled his nerves and he couldn’t figure out why.
As the sun set, the elf sat on the bench watching the sky change from blue to a radiant purple. It was beautiful to watch as night fell over the world. The elf enjoyed this time of day, the feeling of calm that descended upon the world as the end of day approached, filled Sylandris with a peacefulness that was a comfort to his troubled mind and mournful spirit. Tapping the bowl of the pipe against the bench seat, Sylandris headed back inside and went to bed, morning would soon be upon him and he would be leaving at dawn.