Awakener is Here!

At long last, Book Three in my Mage Song series is here! Awakener is available on fine ebook retailers everywhere (Amazon, iTunes, Kobo, Smashwords), and will shortly be available in paperback.

Here’s the blurb and first chapter:

Awakener

Magic fades. Darkness rises.

Darion Ulther and his family have carved out a simple life for themselves in the untamed hinterlands of a wild realm, far from lords and kingdoms and warfare. After destroying the last existing record of a powerful spell capable of crippling magic itself, they assumed they were safe from the machinations of Dathrond’s power-hungry ruler.

They were wrong.

A new threat has emerged in the east, and with it a startling shift in the symmetry between magic and nature. When tragedy strikes, Darion and his loved ones will set out on an adventure to restore balance to the realms – and, if they are fortunate, to awaken the Mage Song once more, for good and all.

Chapter 1

In the wilds of Tetheril, time passes, dreamlike into the mists, until at last the immense becomes simple and the mercurial serene. There, in hidden places, one may find the quiet of nature a salve to the tempest within himself. Not so when the rivers rage and the trees sway in the stormwinds, or when all seems unhinged from the calm of a springtide day. But there is truth in our trials, and in all things the ages move with a greater stillness than we ourselves could ever hope to attain.

***

Draithon Ulther tossed a padded blanket over the back of his gelding and followed it with the cracked old saddle he’d used ever since he was a boy. He cinched the straps tight about the animal’s flanks before adding a pair of saddlebags and a bedroll. The last thing he wanted was to spend the next few weeks on a hunting trip with his father, yet that was his destination. He would sooner have gone to Cliffside Harbor with Master Kestrel and Mistress Axli and the boys, but Draithon’s father never let him go to the western cities. It was too dangerous, he claimed.
The only place Draithon ever got to go was into the woods, hunting, or fishing, or hawking, or helping his mother with the wash. At least Master Triolyn was coming along with them on the hunt this time. Having the archer for company would improve the outing; perhaps Father would go easier on him with someone else around.

Hunting meant long days trekking through untamed wilderness; long hours spent in stillness and silence with bows at the ready; still more time lugging kills back to camp; and endless lessons on skinning, tanning, curing, and smoking. Draithon had taken his fill of all those things; he bore neither interest nor skill in any of them, and as far as he was concerned, he never would. Life was easier when all he needed to worry about were his daily chores. When he could spend his time reading or studying, or daydreaming about castles and cities and all the many cultures of the world.

And girls. Especially girls. He wished he knew more of them. It was hard meeting anyone new when you lived in the wilderness. The only girls Draithon knew were his mother and sisters, and they didn’t count.

There was Mistress Axli, but she was Master Kestrel’s woman. Still, it wasn’t as though Draithon hadn’t begun to notice her. Though she was much too old for him, he’d come to appreciate certain of her attributes in particular. Whenever she bent over a cookfire or lay in the grass with her children, Draithon found he could not help staring. She was a full-figured woman with the blood of the north in her bones. It was obvious in her bearing, her physique; even in her clothes. Sometimes, if Draithon was lucky, she would bend or recline in such a way as to give him a glimpse of what she might look like without them.

“Have I ever told you the story of how I got that saddle?” Draithon’s father asked him from the adjacent stall.

Draithon rolled his eyes. “Yes, Father. You and Jeebo stole a pair of horses from the stables at the River’s Wend in Briarcrest shortly after fighting off Lord Einrich’s son and two of his household guard. You’d left your own horses behind when you subdued the dragon Shandashkaleth and rode him across the skies of Orothwain in search of Mother and me. This is the very same saddle with which you dressed the horse you stole that day. I’ve heard the tale half a hundred times.”

“Yet you’ve misremembered the details,” Darion said.

“The details change with every telling, depending on whether it’s you or Master Jeebo telling it, and how far into your cups you’ve gone beforehand.”

“Yet both Jeebo and I can agree on one thing,” said Darion. “We didn’t steal those horses. We bought them. In a manner of speaking.”

“Ah, yes,” said Draithon. “You left a pouch of gold in each stall to compensate their owners.”

“Correct. And the dragon we rode to Briarcrest is called Caidrannothar. The dragon you’re thinking of—Shandashkaleth—was the one in whose lair you and your mother nearly met your ends. The one possessed by the soul of Celayn, the ancient elven sorceress-queen.”

Draithon shook his head wearily. “I don’t see what difference it makes. That was ages ago.”

“It was ten years ago, nearly to the day,” Darion corrected him. “And there’s one last detail you’ve missed. Jeebo fended off three of Lord Einrich’s household guard by himself—not two.”

“Forgive me that I haven’t your mind for details, Father.”

“Nonsense. You’ve a mind like a sword. Now, if only you could learn to swing one.”

Draithon said nothing. He was tired of being reminded of his shortcomings. That was all Father ever did anymore. Why wasn’t he as hard on Ryssa or Westhane or Vyleigh? Surely their being younger shouldn’t put them above reproach.

“Did you hear me?” Darion asked.

“I heard you, Father.”

“And what do you think?”

“About what?”

“About working harder on your studies.”

“I work as hard as the rest of them. I just don’t have the coordination to hit a bullseye or parry a sword thrust or ride a tilt.”

Darion came over to lean against the stall between them. “I believe you do. You’re a smart lad. You’re tall and sturdy like me. You’ve left your brother and sisters well behind when it comes to your magic. You make Ryssa jealous the way you master spells so quickly.”

“She goes about it all wrong,” said Draithon. “It’s the sigils and their meanings that matter, not the spells. Learn the language, and you can make it do whatever you want.”

“That’s as may be, but not everyone learns the way you do. You’re better than I was at fourteen, I’ll give you that.”

“I started learning magic much younger than you did,” Draithon pointed out.

“Yet Westhane and Ryssa both lag behind where you were at their age.”

“What’s your point? I know magic comes easy to me. I know I’m no good at archery or swordplay or riding.”

“All I mean to say is that if you could turn your mind away from your daydreams once in a while, you’d be better able to focus on everything we’re trying to teach you.”

“Are you sure?” said Draithon. “What if I’ve gotten as good as I’ll ever be at doing my sums or building campfires? What if those aren’t my strong points, and I’m meant to do elsewise?”

“One can always improve.”

“That’s easy to say, coming from you. You’re good at everything.”

“Am not.”

“Name one thing you can’t do well.”

Darion pondered. “I can’t play the lute like Master Kestrel. Or fire a bow as well as Master Triolyn. Or train an animal with Master Jeebo’s knack for husbandry.”

“That’s because you never do any of those things. You never try. If you practiced, you’d pick up on them.”

“The same is true for you,” Darion insisted.

“It isn’t. I’ve tried and tried some things. I’m just not any good at them. The only things you ever struggle with are the ones other people always do for you.”

“I don’t see what this has to do with you,” Darion said. “Farming and survivalism and swordplay and all the rest are valuable skills for anyone to possess. Do you think your mother was adept at wielding a weapon when we married? I’ve been teaching her magic and combat the same way I’ve been teaching you. She was no expert at the start, either. Yet she stuck with it, and look at her now. You’re fortunate to be surrounded by such a varied collection of talent. You’ve learned more than many boys your age could ever hope to.”

It wasn’t that Draithon didn’t appreciate everything he’d learned from his parents and their friends. He simply preferred not to waste his time or energy on some of those things. His true fascination lay with magic and its principles. Truth was, he’d come further in his arcane studies than the rest of his family knew. This was largely thanks to Masters Jeebo and Kestrel, who’d helped him obtain certain materials without his parents’ knowledge. Materials Draithon knew his father would disapprove of, should he ever get wind of them.

One such item was in Draithon’s pocket at that very moment. A small journal with worn edges, patterned in purple florals, where he kept his notes on all the things Jeebo had been teaching him, along with several advancements he’d made on his own. The purple floral pattern wouldn’t have been his first choice, but it was the only one Master Kestrel had been able to procure during a previous trip to Cliffside Harbor. Draithon had been waiting for a chance to slip it into his bags for the hunting trip, but his father’s presence was making it difficult. “I’m not you, Father. As much as you may wish me to be, I’m not.”

Darion’s expression softened. “I would never expect that. I’ve had the same troubles as you, you know. I daydream. I wander. I’m disinterested at times when I ought to be disciplined.”

Draithon took a breath. He tried to be strong, but the pressure inside him was at its peak. Before he could say another word, he felt the tears coming, and he knew there was no holding them back anymore. “I try so hard to please you,” he sobbed, “and yet I always seem to fail.”

Darion came around into Draithon’s stall. “Son. Son. Look at me.” He waited for Draithon to wipe his face on his kerchief. “If your mother and I are hard on you, it’s only because we want you to be ready for the days to come.”

“The days to come?” Draithon said, sniffling. “You’re always talking about the future as though it’s a looming storm on the horizon.”

“A name-day hunting trip,” Master Kestrel announced as he entered the stables. “Going well so far, by the look of it. Would that I might join you on this most illustrious of occasions. However, I’ve resolved to put as many leagues between myself and your lively father-son interplay as possible.”

“Wait until your boys are grown,” Darion warned. “You’ll understand.”

“By the time they’re Draithon’s age, my boys will be living on their own,” said Kestrel.

Darion smirked. “Supporting themselves at fourteen, eh?”

“One can hope.”

“I wish you could come with us, Master Kestrel,” said Draithon. “The fireside will be awfully dull without your music to liven things up.”

“We want the animals coming near,” said Darion, “not running away.”

Kestrel laughed. “Your father is right. You won’t need my music. You’ll have his stories and Triolyn’s unceasing grievances to keep you entertained.”

“Say, where is Master Triolyn?” Draithon asked, looking around.

“Giving my Axli a shopping list for Cliffside Harbor and a purse of silver to pay for it.”

“I often wonder what use the archer finds for some of his trifles,” said Darion.

“As do I,” said Kestrel. “Then my thoughts lead me down dark paths, and I stop wondering. Triolyn is a man who enjoys his comforts. Strange though they may seem, I’ll be the last to raise an objection. The more time he spends on them, the less he spends grumbling.”

“Seems he’s always on about some sore muscle or aching bone these days,” said Darion.

“His body isn’t the only thing that’s going; his mind seems to be following close behind. He came over in his bedclothes this morning, as though he’s forgotten all about the hunt.”

“Is Triolyn older than you, or younger?” Draithon asked.

“Younger than me. Older than Kestrel. Yet he possesses more human blood than any of us. That’s why his age is catching up with him. Don’t fret, though. You know Master Triolyn; he’s like to complain about everything under the sun. He’s got plenty of good years in him yet.”

“Will it be long before I grow old?”

“Rather long, I should think. Between your mother and me, you’ve got elf, dwarf, and giant’s blood in your veins.”

“Let’s hope the lad’s got the mind of a dwarf and the loins of a giant,” said Kestrel, “and not the other way round.”

Draithon chuckled.

Darion frowned. “Is there a reason you’re here, singer?”

“Breakfast. It’s ready. Alynor claims there’s salt trout and porridge to be had for any who’ve a hunger.”

Draithon made a face.

“Worry not, my young friend,” said Kestrel. “When we return from Cliffside Harbor, we’ll have cheese and bread and ale, and maybe some wine from the islands as well.”

“Would you bring me a book, too? As a present for my name day?”

Kestrel appraised him with a look. “Ah, the boy knows his way round a bargain. Anything in particular you’d be interested in?”

“Anything you can find. I should enjoy something new to read, whatever it might be.”

“As you say, lad; in recompense for my absence, I’ll bring you back a fine gift.”

Draithon dried the last of his tears and smiled broadly. “I’ll look forward to it. When will you be off, then?”

“After breakfast. Same as you.”

Darion gestured toward the doors. “Shall we?”

When his father turned away, Draithon slipped his journal into a saddlebag before following him out. They emerged from the stables to find Westhane circling the training pen on the back of his yearling colt while Jeebo looked on. Migo was Westhane’s first horse, a dapple gray with graceful carriage and a haughty nature. Jeebo was helping him break the animal in, though Westhane appeared to be managing on his own.

“That’s it,” Jeebo coaxed. “Be his eyes and ears. Show him how to trust you. Do that, and he’ll stay beneath you when the rest of the world doesn’t.”

“Aye,” Westhane agreed, breathless.

Darion leaned toward Kestrel. “See the way he rides? A natural. Look at that form. Look how he guides the animal’s temperament and brings it under his control.”

Draithon was a decent rider now, but he hadn’t been at age seven. The proud look on Father’s face was like a dagger to him. In an instant he forgot every encouragement Darion had offered him in the stables moments ago. Words meant little when conduct spoke otherwise.

Jeebo took Migo’s reins to let Westhane dismount. The yearling shook his mane and danced sideways, flustered from the ride. Westhane reached out to stroke the horse’s neck, then flinched away when Migo nipped at his fingers.

“He’ll get used to you,” Jeebo assured the boy. “Give him time.”

“Westhane,” Darion called, waving from the far side of the ring. “Come and break your fast with us. See your brother and me off on our hunt.”

“Can I come with you?” Westhane asked, darting across the pen and hopping onto the fence. “I should enjoy giving my new bow a tug.”

“When you’re older,” said Darion, ruffling his hair, “I’ll take you on a hunt all your own. Your brother is fourteen now. That’s a big step in a man’s life. Were he a page boy in the service of a castle, he’d have shortly been taken to squire.”

“Draithon?” said Westhane with a laugh. “A squire? For a knight?”

Darion chuckled, then stifled himself. “Don’t laugh at your brother. It doesn’t become you. Or so your mother would say.”

Westhane didn’t let up. “I imagine that poor knight would need a squire for his squire.”

Even Kestrel laughed this time.

“That will be plenty,” said Darion.

Westhane vaulted the fence and came to stand beside Draithon. “Do you want to see who can run home faster?”

Draithon looked down at his younger brother, hardly more than half his height. “I’m not going to race you. That’s a child’s game.”

“You should win handily, then.”

Draithon shook his head. “I don’t want to run. I’d rather walk.”

“Come, Draithon,” Darion said, prodding him roughly. “Humor him.”

“Why?”

“Because he wants to have a little fun. You won’t see each other for weeks. The least you can do is try to be friendly for a few minutes.”

Draithon sighed and set his stance.

“There,” said Darion. “That’s the stuff. Ready?”

Westhane crouched and gave a nod.

“Go.”

Draithon bolted off the line, taking an easy lead on his brother. He slowed to a jog, thinking he could maintain his advantage. Next he knew, Westhane sprinted up behind him and knocked one foot inward to hook round the other. Draithon tripped and sprawled headlong into the grass. Westhane darted past him, laughing and pointing as he sprinted the remainder of the distance to the cottage to achieve an unopposed victory.

Picking himself up, Draithon dusted off his grass-stained leggings and hobbled home while Father howled with laughter alongside Master Kestrel and Master Jeebo. “It goes to show you,” he heard his father say. “Give your foe the means to recover, and he’ll take you up on the offer.”

***

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

thirteen − eight =