Princess of Lanfor is well underway. Kathryn and I just finished crafting the 26th chapter of the book, with only 6 more chapters planned. I have to say it has been a blast writing with Kat. She has created some witty and wonderful characters that Seth crosses paths with in his search for the Serpent Cult's lair. I have grown particularly fond of Kalyn, a capable and independent young woman from the little town of Deepwood--a town know for its expert archers. Kalyn is no exception. She is quite adept with a bow, as Seth finds out during their first encounter.
But I am getting ahead of myself. I promise to devote an entire blog entry to Kalyn in the near future, however, book 4 starts where book 3 left off. The Serpent Cult has been driven off from the Darkwoods Monolith. The companions all survived, although their good friend Ruka was poisoned. Thanks to Aksel, Donnie, and Elistra she is holding on, but she will need an antidote to fully recover.
Unfortunately, a few obstacles must be dealt with before she can obtain said antidote. Chief among them is an unexpected intruder in the clearing outside the monolith. The story picks up at that point from the perspective of Martan, the self-deprecating archer who doesn't seem to understand why folks as "awesome" as the Heroes keep him around. Trust me, as the tale unfolds, Martan proves himself invaluable.
So without further ado, here is an excerpt from the first chapter of Book 4 of the Princess of Lanfor, A Wicked Wind:
Martan stood at his post, idly stroking his short cropped beard, when out of nowhere, he was hit by a cold gust of wind. The dour archer shivered involuntarily, slapping his arms together to abate the sudden chill. He glanced upward, half expecting to see storm clouds rolling in, but the night sky remained absolutely clear.
Martan’s brow furrowed into deep ridges. That’s strange.
The tracker suddenly froze, the hairs on the back of his neck standing on end. The forest around him had gone deathly silent. He cocked his head to one side and strained his ears, but not a sound came from the surrounding woods, not even the chirping of crickets. Something was definitely amiss. Nearby, the horses fidgeted against their reins, whinning nervously as if they too sensed something wrong. Martan squinted into the dark forest, but saw nothing, not even down the trail that he guarded. The horses grew more anxious as the seconds passed, whinnying louder and prancing around nervously.
Martan spun slowly around, his keen eyes sweeping both the forest and the clearing, yet still he saw nothing. That was when Martan heard it—a loud hissing noise from somewhere above. He snapped his head back just in time to see the moon and stars disappear from the sky. A strange cloud had appeared out of nowhere, completely blotting out everything overhead.
Martan’s jaw dropped. Where in the world did that come from?
The tracker’s eyes remained glued to that cloud, watching in astonishment as it billowed out in all directions. Then the treetops disappeared, and Martan realized the cloud was falling—in mere seconds, it would envelope the camp. Perhaps it was just some strange natural phenomena, but with the knights depending on him, did he really want to take that chance? Deciding to err on the side of caution, Martan cupped his hands together, and screamed as loud as he could, “To arms! To arms!”
Similar shouts echoed from all corners of the encampment, Martan’s cry spurring the other sentries to action. The camp immediately stirred in response, armored men and women spilling out of their tents just moments before the strange mist settled upon them. The fog swiftly fell across the camp, people and tents alike now nothing more than dark shapes in the mist. An acrid smell reached Martan’s nostrils just as the first screams started. The dark forms cried out in pain, flailing their weapons wildly in all directions, as if the very mists were attacking them.
Martan’s eyes went wide with horror. Is there something in the mist? Or is it the fog itself?
The archer swept his gaze around, frantically looking for an answer, when his eyes fell on two small forms next to the nearest tent. That had to be Syndir and Lamorn, the two squires who had befriended him over these last few days. The young men screamed in anguish, waving around violently in all directions, yet Martan saw nothing around them. It has to be the mist.
Martan now realized he couldn’t help the others, but he would not abide the boys suffering. Without another thought, he vaulted into the mists, pulling up his hood and scarf as he went. The damp fog caressed the exposed parts of his skin, and within seconds it began to burn. Martan bit down a cry, still plunging toward the beset boys.
As luck would have it, they had turned his way, the smart lads making for the safety of the forest. Martan reached them moments later, throwing an arm around each, and dragging them the rest of the way out of the mists. The three of them broached the edge of the fog, and fell to the ground panting with exhaustion, yet their exposed skin still burnt with pain. Martan ripped off his scarf, and wiped himself off, then swiftly did the same for the boys. Moments later, their skin dried, all three of them sighed with relief.
“Is that you, Mart...” the one boy began.
“Shhhh,” Martan hissed. He did not know what spawned the deadly cloud, but he had a dreadful suspicion. He grasped the two boys by the neck, pulled them close, and whispered, “Free the horses and get away into the forest.”
“But…” the other boy interrupted him.
“No buts,” Martan hissed sharply. “Stay hidden until I come for you. Understand?”
Both boys nodded. They swiftly got up and rushed toward the horses, the mounts thankfully still outside the burning mist. With the squires safe, Martan turned his attention back to the fog. The painful screams of the people inside were suddenly overshadowed by a bone-shuddering roar. Martan watched in horror as a great dark shape descended from above, and landed in the middle of the mists. Sharp gusts accompanied the ominous silhouette, swiftly dissipating the deadly fog. Pale moonlight seeped through the thin remains of the mist, illuminating the large figure. Martan’s eyes went wide, his worst fears confirmed.
The great beast had landed in the middle of the camp, directly atop the pavilion. The thin structure now lay flattened on the ground under four large clawed feet, no match for the dragon’s massive weight. Martan gulped, a lump sticking in his throat. The great beast was a terrifying sight to behold. It dwarfed the large tent, easily fifty feet long from its massive head, to the tip of its long, sinuous tail. The dragon had landed in a crouch, its belly low to the ground, powerful legs taunt beneath that thick, muscular torso. The great, bat-like wings were partially folded back, the dragon’s tail twitching, as the large head whipped around on its long, snake-like neck.
Loud squeals and nickers had been echoing across the clearing since the dragon’s first roar. Back at the hitching post, Syndir and Lamorn wrestled with the horses’ reins, desperately trying to cut them without getting trampled. At the same time, across the campsite, a small group of men and women had miraculously survived. In the midst of them stood the dark-bearded Sir Craven, tall and unflinching, like a rock in the storm. Holy sword in one hand, shield in the other, he faced the great dragon and shouted to his remaining troops, “Stand fast! You are Knights of the Rose!”
Abruptly, the great head turned toward the knight, large, serpent-like eyes fixing upon him. A deep, menacing growl emanated from the beast, sending an involuntary shiver up Martan’s spine. The dragon regarded the knights for a few moments, then slowly reared up to its full height. Martan’s breath caught in his throat. The dragon was incredibly large—its long legs raising the massive torso twice the height of a man. Yet that swan-like neck, lifted the great head more than double that height.
Martan was stunned, his eyes nearly popping out of his head, as they swept across the great beast’s body. In the pale moonlight, he could not tell the dragon’s color, but he did notice dark spots speckled here and there across its torso. Leathery plates ran up the sides of the neck all the way to the giant head, the head itself crowned with a tall crest that ran all the way down the dragon’s spine. The beast had no ears, but there was a ridge of horns over each of those great eyes. The dragon’s head ended in a long snout with a heavily curved jawline, its large mouth filled with a row of wicked, dagger-like teeth. A slender, forked tongue flickered in and out of the dragon’s mouth, as it glared down at those remaining men and women.
Martan knew his arrows would be no good against the scales of a dragon, and he was terrible with a sword. Yet he knew from his days in Deepwood, that the best way to fight any enemy was to gain the high ground. There was a tall tree at the edge of the clearing twice the height of the dragon. Martan now made for that tree, keeping one eye on the great beast. He had almost reached the base, when the dragon reared its head back, and with a loud hiss, let loose a stream of liquid directly at the remaining knights. The fluid engulfed them all, those brave men and women completely disappearing from sight.