This month's except from the Baron's Heart delves into the psyche of Martan Folke, the reluctant companion of the Heroes of Ravenford. Martan is a true unsung hero of the Ravenford series. The glum archer has stayed with the companions despite multiple near-death incidents - including being turned to stone. He is well aware of how reckless they can be, and is certain that one day they will cause his actual death.
Still, Martan feels compelled to stay with them. He has not forgotten how they took him in when no one else would. Despite their recklessness, the companions have big hearts and are slow to judge others. After all he has been through, Martan is quite aware how rare a commodity that is.
As covered in this excerpt, Martan's chief concern is for Kalyn Rhan. He is afraid that the young woman's obsession with the heroes will get her hurt, or perhaps worse. Yet Martan knows how headstrong she can be, so for now he is biding his time, hoping beyond hope that no one else dies.
Unfortunately, that may not be possible. The Heroes are facing some deadly adversaries this time, everything from assassins to vampires. Further, Dunwynn is once again breathing down their necks - threatening to take over Ravenford with the Baron now gone.
So, for now, enjoy this month's excerpt from the Baron's Heart. The full book is only a few weeks away from publication, and will probably be put up for pre-order on Amazon in another week or so. Thanks again for stopping by, and see you again here next month!
Martan stood alone in the basement of what until recently had been Haltan’s shop. Those spinning lights of Elladan’s and Shalla’s had long since winked out. That left the sunlight streaming down the outside steps as the only reliable source of light.
A few feet beyond the stairs, the basement grew dim, lit only by a couple of torches that lined the high stone walls. Dark shadows hung like lurking beasts in the corners of the wide room. That, and the eerie silence that pervaded the cellar caused Martan to subconsciously shy toward the sunlit steps.
The others had disappeared a while ago, down a secret passage that Seth had discovered in one of the basement walls. Martan had heard nothing from them since, and was starting to worry.
The gloomy archer pulled an arrow from his quiver and nervously straightened the fletchings as his imagination played havoc with his mind. Aksel is the only sensible one of the bunch. Sometimes Elladan, but not always.
The creases on Martan’s brow deepened. But Kalyn seems enamored with them nonetheless—like they’re some sort of heroes.
Twice now those ‘heroes’ had almost gotten him killed. Martan silently hoped their recklessness didn’t get Kalyn hurt, or worse. He had just reunited with the young woman. Though he didn’t quite believe he deserved it, he still hoped they might reconcile one day.
The archer put the arrow he was fingering back in its quiver. He went to grab another one when a sudden sound made him jump.
“Help me,” a small voice called from the shadows.
Martan immediately fell into a crouch. His heart raced as his hand dropped the arrow and strayed to the sword hilt at his waist.
“W-who goes there?” he stammered, his eyes sweeping the surrounding darkness. Abruptly they settled on a shadow near the doorway where the others had disappeared.
Martan held his breath as the shadow moved closer. It halted just outside the ring of sunlight, the afterglow revealing the form of a small girl. The girl wore a cute little dress that was tattered in spots, her hair tied up in pigtails on either side.
Martan’s fear abruptly faded, replaced by a mixture of concern and astonishment. Where in the devil did she come from? She couldn’t have slipped by me.
The little girl gazed at him with a pair of big blue eyes, her expression plaintive. “Please help me. I’ve lost my parents.”
Martan’s mouth fell agape. “Lost your parents? Where are they?”
The girl turned sideways and pointed back at the place Martan dreaded—the entrance to the secret tunnel. “They’re somewhere in there.”
Martan gulped, his mouth suddenly dry. “I–in there?”
The young girl nodded, the pigtails on either side of her head bobbing up and down.
The girl’s response set off all kinds of alarms off in Martan’s gut. Years of tracking had taught him to trust his instincts. It was how he had managed to stay alive this long. The grim archer narrowed his eyes and pointed a thumb over his shoulder. “These stairs lead outside. I have a friend waiting up there. Why don’t you go and wait with her while I find your parents?”
Martan expected the girl to move or at least say something. However, she merely stood there staring at him with those wide blue eyes.
Martan hunched down and looked the girl in the eye. “There’s nothing to be afraid of.”
Still she didn’t budge. He gave the girl a feeble smile and held up his finger. “Wait here a moment.”
The archer stood and backed up to the base of the stairs. He cupped a hand next to his mouth and called up outside. “Shalla? Can you come down here for a moment?”
“Be right there!” the bardess’ voice drifted back as if from far away.
Martan turned toward the girl with a forced smile, but she was no longer standing where she had been. The archer swept his eyes all around the cellar, but there was no sign of her. The hairs on the back of his neck stood on end. This is really getting strange.
“Where did you go?” he called out.
The young girl’s voice immediately echoed back from the secret tunnel. “Come. Follow me. They’re in here.”
“Dragon dung,” Martan swore under his breath. He started toward the tunnel when a familiar voice sounded behind him.
“What’s going on? Have you heard anything?” Shalla stood at the top of the stairs, the lovely bardess squinting as her eyes adjusted to the dim light.
As if in answer, the little girl’s voice sounded once more from the tunnel. “They’re in here. Are you coming?”
Martan gazed at Shalla and shrugged. “Just that.”
Shalla’s comely brow knit, her lips pressing together with concern. “Is that a little girl?”
A moment later, the girl reappeared at the edge of the ring of sunlight. Her big blue eyes fixed on Shalla, moisture welling in their corners. Her tiny voice quavered as she spoke. “I lost my mommy. Are you my mommy?”
Shalla’s eyes teared up as well. “Oh, you poor thing.”
The bardess quickly descended the stairs and rushed toward the girl. Martan’s gut wrenched inside. Not certain why, he leapt to intercept Shalla.
At that same moment, a blinding ray of red light came flashing out of the dark tunnel. It struck the little girl in the back, prompting an inhuman cry from the small waif.
Shalla and Martan both grabbed their ears as the unearthly cry echoed off the stone walls. Abruptly the little girl disappeared in a puff of smoke. The duo grasped each other and stared wild-eyed as Seth, Glo, Raina, Kalyn and Elladan emerged from the dark passage.
Martan, quaking himself, could feel Shalla shaking as she stammered, “W-what was that?”
“Little vamp,” Seth answered in a matter of fact tone.
Shalla gulped as she continued to shudder. “Well she sure knows how to tug on your heart strings.”
“Tell me about it,” Kalyn and Raina answered simultaneously.
Martan noted the curly-topped druid leaning heavily on Kalyn’s shoulder. “What happened to her?”
“Long story,” Seth answered as he swept by Martan and Shalla, up the basement stairs.
Elladan drew up to them next, Shalla switching into his arms.
Kalyn and Raina followed, Glo behind them, keeping a watchful eye on the tunnel they had just exited. Kalyn nudged Martan in the shoulder. “Well, don’t just stand there gawking. Give me a hand with her.”
“Oh, right.” Martan tore his eyes from the vigilant wizard and wrapped Raina’s free arm around his shoulder.
This is crazy, Martan swore to himself as he assisted the two women up the stairs. But he knew Kalyn—once she made up her mind on something, there was no talking her out of it. Even if he decided to leave the ‘heroes,’ she would stay.
The sullen archer made a decision as they reached the top of the stairs. He would stay with Kalyn no matter what. He owed her that much after all he had put her through, even if it ultimately meant giving his life for hers.