Lost Children, the next installment of The Minivandians, is up for pre-order on Amazon.
Here’s the blurb:
Elsked’s adventure continues! In the second of three stories, the Minivandian’s son trades tales of his pets and their misadventures for another story from his parents past.
After escaping the frozen north, Daddybear and Ruarin find refuge with the magical kin of an old friend. Before they can make their way home, treachery will strike the city, leaving death and disappearances in its wake. In an idyllic lakeside city harboring the ancient evil that drove its people from their ancient homeland, can the Minivandian save his Lady of Eire?
The book will go live on January 26, but you can pre-order it now. I hope you enjoy it, and remember, the best way to compliment a writer is to leave an honest review and spread the word.
I put up a snippet for one of the short vignettes here, and here’s the first chapter of the longer portion of the book. Enjoy!
The moon hung over the trees, full and blood red. It shone down on a young man in robes as gray as a dove’s wing as he walked up a long flight of rough-cut stone stairs. To one side of him, moonlight danced on carved scenes of ships and people, while on the other, dark trees growing from the steep hillside blocked his view of the water below. The cheeping of tree frogs, taking advantage of the last warm weather of early autumn, competed with the voice coming from the temple above him to drown out his slow steps.
He cradled a cloth-wrapped bundle in the crook of his arm. It would occasionally wriggle, and once he had to bring his free hand up to steady it as he continued his march upward. Any sound it made was drowned out by the noise of the forest and marshes surrounding him. The young priest paused when he reached an open space at the top of the stairs and looked around.
The temple was ancient, and only its main chamber had been reclaimed from the forest. The young man’s ancestors had hewn it from the living rock of the low hill upon which it sat, and he could almost sense the power of the earth running up through it. The side opposite him was open to the night air, and he could see the full moon framed above the forest. Above him, the sound of singing echoed from the high, domed ceiling, making it sound as if a chorus were serenading him as he made his way into the chamber.
An alabaster altar, polished until it shone in the torchlight, lay at its center. Fine, white linen cloths covered it. Upon them, a silver basin and pitcher reflected a red and orange glow back at him. The same light reflected from the wall behind the altar, making the ship carved in its white stone appear to be ablaze.
His mentor and teacher stood with his hands on the altar. Where the young man wore robes the color of a mourning dove, his flawlessly white garments were a stark contrast against the dark stone. A long sword hung from his belt, its golden hilt shining in the light. It contrasted with the iron chain that swung from his neck. The older man’s eyes were closed as he crooned a prayer in a high, powerful voice. His song rang from the high ceiling, and its rhythm followed the young priest’s heartbeat.
The young priest stepped forward and bowed to his master.
“Do you bring this child to our god willingly?” the white-clad priest asked in a gentle voice.
“Yes, I do.”
“Is he a member of our people?”
“Yes, he is.
“Then prepare him.”
The young priest lifted the baby up and gently placed him on the altar. He untied the bundle of cloth enclosing the child, then poured warm water from the pitcher into the basin. As he did this, the older priest held his hands over the water and prayed.
The younger man wet one of the cloths, then washed the baby from head to toe. The child laughed as the soft cotton ran over his skin, and his toothless grin caused both priests to smile indulgently. After the little boy was cleansed thoroughly, the young priest picked him up again.
The older priest took some oil from a flask and rubbed a mark on the child’s chest with his thumb. He carefully placed his hand across the crown of the infant’s head, and bowing down, whispered a blessing into the child’s ear. The baby giggled and squirmed, then reached up and toyed with the old man’s beard.
“Present him to the god!” the elder priest ordered as he gently untangled his whiskers from chubby fingers.
The young priest bowed to him, then swaddled the baby in a thick, soft cloth. He turned and faced the idol, which dominated the wall opposite the altar.
It was wrought from iron, with two golden horns curling from the sides of its head. The throne upon which it sat was carved from the same rock as the temple, but had been polished smooth to reflect the glow coming from the huge mound of embers burning beneath it. Its eyes, crafted from flawless red jewels, glowed against the dark stone of its bearded face.
Two outstretched arms beckoned to the priest. The waves of heat rising from below the god seemed to make its fingers move before his eyes.
As he took his first step, the young priest placed his hand on the child’s head and whispered, “Etezh.” The child’s dark eyes immediately closed in slumber.
Behind him, the white-clad priest began to chant in an ancient language.
God of our fathers!
Father of the people!
Protector of the city!
We bring you our offering!
Accept our sacrifice and bless your people!
Crush our enemies, end our struggles!
The younger man sang along with his master. He moved with the rhythm of his prayer as he slowly walked toward the idol. His eyes watered from the heat rising from the throne’s base, and tears ran down his smooth cheeks. The god’s red eyes glimmered in the shadow of its beard as he placed the child in its arms. Stepping back, he bowed low to the idol.
As he straightened, the idol’s arms fell to its lap, and the young priest glimpsed the cloth bundle, pale against the god’s dark throne, drop into the fire as a stone drops into water. A brief flash of light and pungent smoke overcame him for a moment, then his vision cleared to show the smiling face of his god.
Both men bowed until their foreheads touched the stone floor. After a long moment, the older priest rose and spoke to his assistant.
“Bring up the other one,” he ordered.
The young priest sat on a ledge overlooking a moonlit beach. Below him, small blue flames winked from the surface of the marshlands at the water’s edge. Behind him, he could hear his master packing away their vestments and sacramental vessels. He breathed in the cool air, feeling its soft caress on his red face.
A gentle hand on his shoulder brought him out of his reverie. He looked up into the smiling face of the older priest, now wearing a simple, drab cloak over his clothing.
“Bal Haamon smiles on us,” he said, taking a seat next to his assistant. His tone, as well as the look on his face, was exultant.
“He demands a high price for his happiness,” the younger man said quietly.
“He provides for us, and he will bring our people back to glory.”
“Is this what the god wants?” the young priest asked morosely. “How many more children must we give to him?”
“This is how our forefathers worshipped,” the older man replied, “and we have fallen far since we neglected our god.”
“So, there’ll be more?”
“Oh, yes, there will be more,” his master said with a grave nod. “Three hundred were given to save the old city. We will sacrifice as many as it takes to elevate its replacement.”
He looked out upon the water for a moment, then clapped the younger man on the shoulder.
“Come,” he said, “let’s get back to the city. It’ll be dawn soon.”