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Escort Duty

Over the next few weeks, I am going to serialize my longish short story “Escort Duty“, which is available in the anthology of the same name on Amazon.

The story is set in the Minivandians world, and tells us about one of Simon’s adventures before he met Ruarin and DaddyBear.

I hope you all enjoy it.  Happy New Year!

Christmas Book Sale

Since it’s the season, I thought I’d offer a few books for 99 cents from now until December 27.  These are the three shorter works that make up “Coming Home“.

 

First, we have “Quest to the North

Long before the comfortable adventures of the everyday, Ruarin, the Lady of Eyre and Daddybear the Minivandian make a harrowing journey to track down the ghoulish remnants of a friend, and the captive he took.

In the frozen north, they must brave not only killing weather and hidden monsters, but the secrets of Daddybear’s past, including his true name…

Second, we have “Lost Children

 

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?

Finally, there’s “Lady of Eyre

From the young prince’s competition in the derby of wooden chargers to the tales of his family’s past come close calls, challenges, and triumph!

When the Lady of Eyre and Daddybear make it to her native land, all is not well. One lord is raiding and enslaving, and others are silenced by gold or lies. When he sets his eyes on Daddybear’s lady and her lands, though, he awakens the full cunning and fury of her barbarian!

I hope everyone enjoys the books and has a happy, and safe, holiday!

Black Friday Sale on Books

If, like me, you prepare for Thanksgiving weekend as if a hurricane were coming in and wouldn’t be caught dead in a grocery or department store until Monday morning, you’re going to be looking for something to do.

You could cook or bake, but you’ve already got all those leftovers, and the kids can eat pumpkin pie for breakfast.

You could clean the house, but you probably did that already getting ready for Thanksgiving.  Seriously, don’t you deserve a break after all your hard work?

You could watch TV, or go to the movies, but there’s 10^6 channels and nothing on.

There’s always the Internet, but don’t you think all that turkey and fixings has already done enough harm to your blood pressure?

To help everyone find something to do over the weekend, and to help you stretch your entertainment dollars so that you’ll have more to spend on all of the other sales, I’m putting Escort Duty and Tales of the Minivandians on sale for 99 cents each from now until Sunday evening.  That’s right, for just 99 cents, you can get hours of entertainment to distract you from trying to figure out what to do with 35 pounds of leftover mashed potatoes and gravy.

Tales of the Minivandians is a collection of slightly skewed real life stories from my home, each of them answering my mantra, “What would Conan do?”,  along with a high fantasy novella that introduces you to the Northerner and his family.

Escort Duty is a collection of short stories, including “The War“, a sort-of thriller that I’ve been serializing here over the past few months, and the titular “Escort Duty”, which is a story starring Simon from the Minivandians universe.

I hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving, and I hope you enjoy Escort Duty and Tales of the Minivandians!

 

 

Snippet

Here’s the opening passage to my contribution to Calexit.  Please let me know what you think.


 

“’Night, Joe,” Jennifer said as she passed her hand under the clinic’s reader to clock out. A faint beep and a flash of red light from the appliance let her know that it had recognized the chip in her right hand and that she was officially able to start her vacation.

“’Night, Jen,” Joe replied. “Gonna be another hot one tomorrow.”

“We’re heading to a bed and breakfast in Monterey for a few days,” Jen held the door open as she paused to talk with the man. “It’ll be cooler on the coast.”

She was tall, with long legs and well-muscled arms. Her hair, which one of her college boyfriends had once described as the color of honey in sunshine, ran down the back of her faded gray scrubs in a tight braid.

“At least you’ll be away from all this smoke.” Joe’s teeth stood out against his dark skin as he smiled at the nurse and stepped out to join her on the cement entranceway. “You want me to walk you to your car?”

The smell of wood burning struck Jen as soon as she stepped out of the clinic’s air-conditioned comfort. The news feeds had been bursting with reports of wildfires in the Sierras all week, but the government had assured everyone that no damage to homes or businesses was expected.

“Nah, that’s all right,” Jen said, smiling again. “It’s just over there.” She nodded at the small, beat-up compact she had parked on the far side of the parking lot. It was the only vehicle left in the lot, since Ramon, who had relieved her for the night shift, had been dropped off by his boyfriend. The harsh light of the LED bar that hung above the entrance reached just far enough out that she could see its dull gray outline against the trees.

“Well, I’ll be here if you need me.”

“Thanks.”

Jen gave the parking lot a good, long look before stepping away from the crumbling patio at the building’s entrance. Her car sat in the shadows of tall eucalyptus trees at the far end of the lot, their pungent scent competing with the smoke in the faint, hot breeze. Above it, the skeletons of floodlights, which she had never known to work in the two years she had worked at the clinic, looked down on the cracked asphalt like immense aluminum flowers. Seeing nothing, she fished her phone from her bag.

She tapped “Hi hon. lving work. C U in the AM. Miss U” onto the screen once she had unlocked it with her identity chip and the CalSec emblem had faded to allow her access to the network. She hit send just as she reached her vehicle. The car noticed her presence and unlocked the door for her. It cheerfully chirped at her and helpfully turned on its interior lights. Their dim illumination made her feel better as she looked over her shoulder to see if Joe was still standing at the door to the building. He saw her look and waved.

Jen raised her hand to wave as well, when she heard rushed footsteps coming across the pavement. She turned to see where the noise was coming from just as someone grabbed her from behind and threw her up against the side of her car.

Instinctively, Jennifer threw her elbow back just like her instructor at her “Strong Women of the Future” class had taught her. Pain lanced up her arm as she felt the corner of her elbow impact with something that crunched under its hard bone.

Pinche puta!” a voice squealed as Jen screamed for help. She tried to turn around to confront her attackers, but strong hands forced her head down. Blood bloomed from her forehead as it caught the hard edge of the door. Jen heard voices behind her, then felt hands tearing the thin fabric of her scrubs.

She screamed again, thrashing to get away. Her phone rattled to the pavement beside the car, along with her bag. Her struggles gained her enough freedom to stand upright once again, and she caught sight of the door to the clinic closing as Joe ducked back inside.

Then, someone grabbed her long braid and used it to drag her head back, then shoved her hard against the windshield. She felt the drawstring of her pants scrape along her hips and thighs as they were yanked down, then another blow to her head made the world fuzzy and dark. The last thing she heard before slipping into unconsciousness was the sound of laughter as someone cut the strap of her bra.

Calexit Anthology On Sale Now!

The Calexit anthology, collected by OldNFO, is available for sale.

My involvement started when I was at LibertyCon this summer.  NFO was talking about his novella, The Day The Earth Shook, and mentioned that he was considering expanding on it into a collection of short fiction.  The more he talked, the more an idea started forming in the back of my head.  One thing led to another, and I found myself sitting in the back of the theater at the Chattanooga ChooChoo lining out my story in his universe.

After a few drafts, Night Crossing got sent off and NFO was gracious enough to include it in his anthology.  Working with him has always been a pleasure, and he worked his butt off to make this book happen.  Also included are L.B. Johnson, Cedar Sanderson, LawDog, and Bob Poole.  Honestly I’m not sure what I did to earn the privilege of having my writing alongside theirs.

Anyway, the book is now available on Amazon in both ebook and paperback versions.  Hope you all enjoy it, and as always, honest reviews are greatly appreciated.

Coming Soon!

While I was at LibertyCon this year, OldNFO mentioned that he was considering expanding his short work “The Morning The Earth Shook” into a compilation of short stories about CalExit.  For those of you with a healthy, full life away from the ugliness of politics, CalExit is the movement to take California out of the Union and stand it up as its own country.

So, as I sat in a dark theater watching a panel, an idea got to me, and I started sketching it out.  Once I had it lined out and drafted, I sent it along to Jim, and it’s going to be included in his anthology.

Calexit3webart

Seeing the works of the other authors in this, I’m humbled to be included.  Jim says that he expects for it to be ready for publishing in a few weeks.  I’ll keep y’all updated.

New BoogeyMan Stories!

Working Vacation“, the new BoogeyMan e-book, is live on Amazon.

Here’s the blurb:

Martin Shelby, called the BoogeyMan by friend and foe, returns in two new stories.

In “The Devil Drinks Sweet Tea”, a young Shelby thought his Grandpa was just being grouchy about having to help out with the gardening. That is, of course, until Grandma’s geraniums spontaneously burst into flames and the lilies started chanting in Latin.

In “Working Vacation”, the BoogeyMan just wants to relax on the beach with his wife, but his plans change when an old friend tracks him down to call in a debt. Shelby races against the clock to find a missing client before the full weight of the world falls in on his quiet vacation.

Thanks much to the beta readers for all their suggestions and corrections, and many thanks to Irish Woman, who has had to listen to me babble about this one for a few weeks.  These are a lot of fun, and I seem to have developed a habit of going over them out loud.

This is a quick snippet from the first story in the book, The Devil Drinks Sweet Tea.  Please enjoy Working Vacation, and if you have a moment, I’d really appreciate an honest review up on Amazon or Goodreads.


I was about halfway through weeding the tomatoes and considering whether the potato patch needed work when I heard Grandpa calling my name.  I dropped the hoe and trotted around the side of the house, but stopped when I saw Grandpa coming from the front yard.

He didn’t wait for me to speak before he pointed toward the flower beds. “Go take a sniff over there and tell me what you smell.”

“Grandpa, I know what your farts smell like.”

He made an exasperated sound and waved me toward the petunias.  “Not that.  At least, not this time.”  He took my arm and started walking back toward the flowers.  “I swear, I smell sulphur over here.”

“Grandpa, really.  Is this like the time you ate too much egg salad when we were driving back from Nashville?”

“Boy, just tell me what you smell,” he ordered impatiently.

We stopped a few feet from the goldfish pond.  I looked sidewise at my grandfather and took a quick sniff, then another.  He was right.  There was something funky in the air, like old gym locker mixed with bad eggs.

“Algae?” I suggested.  “Maybe we need to clean out the pond a bit?”

The pond was Grandma’s front yard pride and joy, even though she kept the best flower garden in the county.  It was about ten yards long, about two yards across at its widest, and anywhere from six inches to three feet deep.  She had dug it all by hand one spring when I was little, and had lovingly raised dime store goldfish in it until some of them were almost a foot long.  Molesting the fish or playing with the waterfall was a sure way to earn a swat on the butt, no matter your age.

“Nah, it’s not that.  Cleaned out the filter last weekend.”

I took a few steps away from the pond and sniffed again.  “It’s stronger over here.”

“I hope nothing’s died under your Grandma’s flowers.  She won’t be happy if we tear them up trying to find it.”

“Maybe it’s the mulch.  Where you’d get it?”

“Same place as always, Jones Supply over in Simpsonville.”

He looked about the flower garden, then shrugged again.

“Might as well get this done before it starts storming.”  The ancient freckles on Grandpa’s nose came together as he scrunched up his face and examined the sky. Dark clouds were piling in from the east, and the breeze had returned to rustle the tall oak’s leaves.  It wasn’t enough to shade us from the sun or dry out my sweat-soaked tee shirt, but it promised rain in our near future. “We’ll figure it out after church tomorrow.”

I was walking back to the vegetable garden when the first tremor struck.  It felt like a freight train was running underneath the grass, and sounded like it too.  Grandpa’s dog, an old mutt named George, started barking from the back yard, and I heard the tree above me groan as its limbs shifted in the strengthening wind.  Then I heard my grandfather shout again.

The ground was still shaking as I skidded to a halt next to Grandpa, who stood where I had left him.  Around us, the front yard was coming apart.  Gouts of rich, black earth were flying up from the center of the rose bushes, while Grandma’s geraniums were beginning to smoke.  The smell of sulphur was almost overpowering, and the wind was whipping the trees and bushes back and forth.

Just as the geraniums burst into pillars of blue flame too bright to look at for long, the lilies started chanting in Latin.  At least I thought it was them.  The voices, deep and just a little off-key, were coming from their little stone-bordered plot.

I looked up to Grandpa, and saw that his head was cocked to one side, as if he had seen a three-headed rooster run out of the old coop out back and was wondering what in tarnation was going on.  As the geysers of mulch and topsoil grew in height and girth, he turned to me.

“Marty, you seeing this too?”

 

Snippet

Here’s another bonus story from “Coming Home”.  Let me know what you think in the comments, and if you’ve read the entire book, I’d really appreciate it if you could give me a review on Amazon.


Dinner of Danger

 

A smile split the Minivandian’s craggy countenance as he looked down at his youngest son. Elsked had spent the afternoon reading a book of ancient tales and dozing off in a chair while his father and several of the King’s men had argued and debated over a table covered in maps and scrolls. Now, he lay with his head caught in the corner of its cushioned back and his feet over one of the arms. Quiet snores widened the tall Northerner’s grin as he gently touched the young boy’s shoulder and shook him awake.

“My son,” DaddyBear said, “it’s time to go.”

Elsked looked up at his father for a moment, his dreams of a beautiful princess in a high tower lingering into the waking world, then the boy blinked. He yawned and stretched as he closed the leather-bound tome in his lap, sending a puff of air scented with old vellum and dust up his face to ruffle his hair.

“Is mother home yet?” he said between yawns.

“Not yet,” DaddyBear replied. “A messenger came to us just at sundown to say that she would be later than expected.”

“Is she in peril?” Elsked asked, suddenly awake. For a moment, the dread he had felt while listening to Rustle’s story the night before returned, and he felt a shiver run up his back.

“No, but the weather is atrocious,” DaddyBear replied. “Her winged beast has been delayed, but I expect she will meet us at the inn in a few hours.

Elsked frowned at his father. “Are you sure?” he asked hesitantly.

“Have no worries,” the Minivandian assured him. “Someday I’ll tell you the story of how your mother withstood much worse than this little snow and wind.”

“What’s for dinner?” the Young Prince asked as he stood up. He walked over to the bookshelf and carefully placed his book, entitled “Dragons, Wyverns, and Other Winged Beasts: The Definitive Guide,” in its place on the bookshelf next to the chair.

“Well,” said DaddyBear, “that depends on what we wish to eat. There’s a place I know that serves the cuisine of Rhaetia. They’re a cousin to my own folk, and there’s nothing better on a cold night than fermented cabbage, sausage made from the best bits of the swine, and thick beer.”

Elsked considered that for a moment and pictured a wide platter piled high with the pieces of a pig that weren’t fit for his mother’s table and a fragrant scoop of old cabbage. DaddyBear chuckled at the look on his son’s face.

“If that doesn’t sound as good to you as it does to me, I have an idea for something different,” he said, giving the Young Prince a wink.

“Different? How?” Elsked asked. The last time his father had suggested something ‘different’ for dinner, they had gone to a place that served Aztlani cuisine. Elsked had found the food to be flavorful, but he had not enjoyed the fire it had set on his tongue and in his belly.

“Are you brave?” DaddyBear said with a gentle rumble in his voice.

“Of course I am!” Elsked exclaimed. His timidity toward trying new things evaporated when it met his father’s challenge.

“Are you adventurous?” the Minivandian growled in a low roar.

“You know it!” his son cried out, matching his father’s tone. From the other side of the room, the King’s men, who had been chatting over some cheese and spiced wine, smiled at the display.

“Good!” DaddyBear exclaimed, clapping Elsked on the shoulder. “Come. I have something to show you, my brave young man!”

The pair wrapped themselves up in their cloaks and made their way out into the night. The wind was blowing cold and strong from the north, driving pellets of ice and the occasional snowflake across the river. Elsked could hear waves crashing against the levy to his left as he followed his father down the slick cobblestone street. The streetlamps, which some daring soul had lit in the middle of the gale, provided orbs of light which extended for several yards, but there were long stretches between them where he had to watch for glints of light as they reflected from the battle axe his father carried across his fur-covered back so that he did not lose him in the gloom.

Finally, just as Elsked started to think that his feet and nose might actually freeze off, DaddyBear stopped at the entrance to what looked like a well-tended garden. A thick coat of ice lay upon the high, arching gate, but some enchantment or another kept the neat walkway of gray pebbles clear. The Minivandian motioned for his son to precede him, then took care to close the gate behind them.

The Young Prince marveled at the carefully trimmed bushes and meticulously raked beds of gravel and stone which lay to either side of the path. A small tree, which he thought might have been a pine, had been twisted into a curling statue that reminded him of one of the dragons of the Eastern Realms he had seen in his book that afternoon. Brightly painted lanterns, which seemed to float on their own beneath the manicured trees, lit the garden in a golden glow. Soon, they approached a short bridge that spanned a narrow stream. As they walked over it, Elsked looked down to see large orange and white water creatures swimming to and fro beneath the thick coat of ice that covered its surface.

He looked back at his father, who urged him on with an encouraging smile. It was then that Elsked noticed that the wind, which had cut into him ever since leaving the meeting house, was now only a rushing noise that seemed far off to his ears. The air, while still cold enough that his breath came out in long streamers of vapor, was pleasant rather than painful against his face.

Finally, they came to an intricately carved wooden door, tall enough that his father would not have to duck his head to enter and wide enough that three of him could have linked arms and walked through the portal. The Minivandian rapped his knuckles against the door, and it immediately opened for him. The puff of warm air that enveloped Elsked felt delicious, and he hurried inside.

Once he pulled the hood of his fur cloak back, he found himself in an ornately decorated room. Rich red fabric competed with carved gold and bright green in the light of perfumed lamps, while a brazier glowed a dull orange in the corner. A massive glass tank, which would have been welcome in Master Weerdington’s menagerie, dominated the wall opposite the door. Several large fish and other creatures paused in their perambulations to watch as he and his father removed their cloaks and hung them from pegs next to the door.

The scent of meat cooking and luxurious spices struck Elsked, making his mouth water and his stomach gurgle. As he looked about the room, he saw people sitting around several tables, eating from great platters of food or drinking wine from small cups as they laughed and talked quietly.

A woman, dressed in a long, flowing gown dyed the same scarlet hue as the roses that grew in the garden behind the Minivandian’s manor, approached the pair and bowed deeply. Elsked marveled that the trees and grass embroidered onto the back and sleeves of her gown continued to undulate as if they were blown by a breeze even when she stood still.

“Welcome, good sirs,” she said to them in a high, soft voice. “You honor us with your presence on such a night. How may I be of service?”

DaddyBear returned the bow, then glanced over to his son. Elsked tore his eyes away from the woman’s beauty and bowed as well once he noticed his father’s eyes boring into him.

“We have come to sample your wares, my good woman,” the Northerner said as he straightened.

“Ah, good,” the hostess replied with a small, but pleasant, smile. “Would you prefer to eat here or in the fire room?”

Fire room? Elsked thought as he looked up at his father. That sounds interesting.

DaddyBear noticed the way that his son’s face lit up at her words and replied, “On a night like this, I believe that the fire room would be wonderful.”

The hostess nodded and turned toward an arched doorway leading to a dark corridor. Its wooden walls were decorated with portraits of warriors with tall helmets and painted faces. Each carried either a large, curved sword or a bow, and their armor seemed to be made up of the brilliantly colored scales of great beasts. The flickering light of the torches hanging from the walls made it look as if their fierce eyes followed the Young Prince as he walked behind the hostess. He could hear muffled voices and the rhythmic thud of someone chopping something with a large, heavy blade coming through the walls.

The young woman led them into a small alcove at the end of the corridor. It was not as brightly lit as the main hall, but the dim glow from the fire underneath the great slab of iron at the room’s center showed that it was as richly decorated. Bordering the gigantic grill was a counter of dark wood polished to a mirror finish, with hammered silver decorating its edge. The room was very warm, but after the chill of the storm outside, it felt luxurious to the Young Prince.

The hostess motioned them toward two of the pillows arrayed around the slab before turning to the Minivandian.

“Would you prefer tea or wine, my lord?” she asked.

“Tea, please,” DaddyBear replied as he took his seat. “If you have it, I prefer the blood wood tea of the Green Mountains, although I expect that my son would prefer something a little sweeter.”

The hostess smiled at Elsked and asked, “We have honey blossom tea, my young lord, if that better suits your tastes.”

Elsked’s ears perked up at that. He had heard of honey blossom once before after an older boy at school tried it. The young warrior had described it as tasting as if it were the nectar of the gods, and had told of how it was gathered from the side of a volcano far across the ocean.

“May I try it, father?” he asked excitedly.

DaddyBear chuckled as he nodded. “Of course, my son. It will definitely take the chill off your bones.”

The lady bowed once more, then walked into the kitchen. He could hear her high voice calling to someone in a language he did not understand, then heard an answering rumble.

“What manner of food do they serve here?” Elsked asked as he look around the room again.

DaddyBear gave his son a mischievous look. “Let me surprise you,” he replied. “I promise, you will enjoy everything.”

The lady in the silk gown returned, carrying a tray from which steam rose in the warm air. She lay two ceramic cups in front of her guests, then set down two large teapots. One, which was closer to DaddyBear, was glazed a dull green, and its bottom seemed to glow sluggishly as the tea inside brewed. The pot nearer to Elsked, on the other hand, was painted with gold and red flowers against a creamy white background. As he watched, the petals swayed in time to the wisps of steam rising from its spout.

DaddyBear motioned the hostess closer and whispered into her ear. She nodded as she listened to his orders, and occasionally looked over to Elsked and hid a smile or a giggle behind her hand. Elsked’s eyes narrowed at this, and once the woman had left again, he looked suspiciously to his father.

“You’re up to something,” he teased. “Should I be afraid?”

“No, just excited,” the Minivandian said as he filled their cups with tea.

Elsked picked up his drink and saw that the tea was a beautiful saffron color, and he could smell sweet spices in its steam. He blew upon the surface for a moment, then took a tentative sip. An explosion of flavors struck his tongue, first sweet, then rich and spicy. Finally, as the warmth of the tea travelled into his middle, he smiled and sighed.

The corners of his father’s eyes crinkled over his own steaming mug, then he took a sip of his blood-red tea.

“How does yours taste, father?” Elsked asked.

“Oh, a little salty, and its astringent on the tongue,” DaddyBear replied. “This is the kind of tea the hill dwarves drink before battle.”

“Of course,” he added with a chuckle before taking another sip, “they usually add a nip or two of their red whiskey to it. They say that really prepares them for the fight.”

The hostess returned, this time bearing a tray of bowls and small plates. First, she placed a bowl of steaming soup next to each of them. This was clear at the top, with small pieces of mushroom and herbs floating on the surface. At the bottom of his bowl, though, Elsked saw a roiling layer of a thicker substance.

He looked up doubtfully at his father, but the Minivandian did not notice as he helped the hostess lay their first course down on the table. One plate held four small dumplings, their sides grilled a golden brown. The other plate held small bits of rice with different meats arranged upon them.

“Please, enjoy,” the hostess said with smile and a bow. “Your chef will join you shortly.” After checking to make sure that everything was in order, she turned and walked back into the kitchen.

Elsked reached for a dumpling, then stopped when he noticed that some of the meat on the other tray was still moving. As he watched, a tentacle curled up and reached toward him. The young prince recoiled at the sight, then watched in awe as his father took up that piece, and popped it into his mouth.

“Ah, it’s been a long time since I’ve had fresh kraken.” the Northerner said around a mouthful of rice and tentacle.

“Kraken?” Elsked said skeptically. He more closely examined the remaining morsels on the plate.

“Well, it’s either from one of the smaller varieties or a very young one, but yes, this is kraken,” DaddyBear said after washing it down with a sip of his tea. “It’s delightfully chewy.”

“And what else is there?” Elsked said, narrowing his eyes and taking a very close look at the plate.

“Hmmm, let’s see,” DaddyBear said as he surveyed the tray. “This here, with the light-colored flesh, is lagoon creeper. That dark red one there is sea rocket.”

He thought for a moment, then said, “And I’m not sure what that last one there is. I told the lady to surprise us.”

Elsked looked over his choices, then asked, “May I try it?”

“Of course, my son. That’s why I brought you here. You already know what the food from my country tastes like, and I know you’re familiar with Eyrisch cuisine. A young man should be exposed to many different things so that he can tell that which is wholesome from that which is foul.”

Elsked picked up a piece of sea rocket and took a tentative bite. The flesh was soft, yet not mushy, and the flavor, while delicate, was intriguing. He quickly finished the rest of the piece and reached for a pale green piece of lagoon creeper.

Soon, he had sampled everything on the plate, even the spicy fish that his father could not identify. That one, in particular, had been a treat, since each bite caused the Young Prince to breathe out a long burst of golden flames, which had delighted his father. The dumplings were filled with a mixture of meats and spices, and after the exotic flavors of the fish tasted wonderfully familiar.

The Young Prince noticed that his soup had cooled somewhat, so after watching his father take a long slurp from his bowl, he took a tentative taste of it. It was somewhat nutty, with a tangy, almost salty undercurrent that washed away some of the more complex flavors from the other food. His hunger rekindled, Elsked finished his bowl just as the door to the room swung open again.

Elsked was surprised to see a squat man with deep wrinkles around his eyes and mouth enter. He had a serious look in his intense, dark eyes, and his jet-black hair was covered with a white hat. This matched his impeccably clean and pressed white jerkin and breeches, the front of which he covered with an apron dyed the color of fresh blood.

The man stopped next to the iron slab and bowed deeply to the Minivandian, who rose and returned the gesture. To Elsked’s surprise, the man then turned and bowed just as deeply to him. The Young Prince recovered quickly enough to rise and bow to the man before too long, however.

A hint of a smile quirked up one corner of the man’s face as he rose and said, “You honor us with your presence.”

The Minivandian looked to his son and nodded. Elsked, again surprised, squeaked, “The honor is ours, good sir. Thank you for your hospitality.”

This brought a true smile to the man’s face. “I am Master Yoshi, young lord. I will be preparing your dinner tonight, if that pleases you.”

Elsked glanced over to his father, who again nodded to him. “Nothing would please me more, Master Yoshi.” he said, this time getting the words out in an even tone and without stammering.

Yoshi nodded to the Young Prince, then clapped his hand. Two young boys, dressed identically to their master, carried in a large brass tray and set it on a table next to the grill. It was piled high with ingredients, some of which Elsked recognized, but many which he did not. The apprentices bowed first to Master Yoshi, then to his guests, before leaving the room.

“Tonight, I shall prepare for you a special treat,” Yoshi said as he deftly took a tall vial from the tray and poured thick oil from it onto the large metal slab. It immediately began to smoke, but when he passed his hand over it, the smoke transformed into bright green flames that reached up to the high ceiling.

Tatsu!” the chef intoned, his voice deepening as it reverberated from the rafters. Elsked’s eyes widened as the flames coalesced into the head of a mighty green beast that bared its teeth at him before collapsing into the grill’s iron slab. Yoshi chuckled at the Young Prince’s reaction, then reached back to his cart.

“For you, Minivandian, I have brought the haunch of a mighty mizuchi, the water serpent, cooked blood rare and spiced with the bark of the phoenix tree. For you, Young Prince, there are medallions of basan, a fowl rich in taste, but devilish in temperament. This I will sear and then sweeten with honey and herbs.”

As he spoke, low flames danced and changed color several times as they leapt up from the grill. While his guests were watching the display, he heaped meat, rice, and vegetables upon the flames, then began to move them about with two wide and, to Elsked’s eye, wickedly sharp knives. Sparks flew as their edges beat a fast tempo against the slab, now hot enough to make the air above it shimmer in the torchlight. Elixirs that caused iridescent flames to rise above the grill were poured upon the food, along with spices that sizzled and flared as Yoshi sprinkled them into the flames.

As he worked, Yoshi hummed and sang a rhythmic song, timing his movement to the tune. It released some magic into the air, as Elsked found himself swaying to its beat, and he felt his heart leap every time the master chef struck the surface of the grill hard with his knives. He took up a tray bearing small gobbets of what Elsked thought might be fowl of some sort, and began to use his blades to juggle the flesh above the fire. They sizzled and gave off spurts of their own flames as they cooked.

Elsked looked quizzically at Yoshi, who smiled broadly and explained as his knives and the food swirled in front of his face, “This is ebi, young lord, great prawns taken from a magical bay near my home. You will like it!”

Suddenly, a scrap of meat flew up and away from the chef. A long tail of flame and steam trailed behind it as it arced toward the Minivandian. DaddyBear opened his mouth and caught the treat between his teeth, then roared with laughter as he chewed.

“Pay attention, son, it’s your turn!” he cried out as Yoshi readied another morsel for flight.

Elsked looked up excitedly as a bit of meat, which had become a mottled orange and white as it cooked, sailed his way. He lined up his head to catch it, then opened his jaws wide. At the last moment, he closed his eyes, then felt the tidbit bounce off his nose before dropping into his mouth. Both men laughed heartily at the trick, and once Elsked had gotten over his surprise, he joined them.

Soon, their plates were piled high with more food than Elsked had ever been served before. Yoshi smiled and bowed to them once more as the Minivandian and his son thanked him vociferously. Once the chef had left, they dug into their food.

“How is your dinner, son?” DaddyBear asked as he scooped up a spoonful of rice and vegetables.

“No talk!” Elsked replied between mouthfuls. “Too good. Eat first.”

The Minivandian chuckled as he ate his own dinner. “Should I assume you like it, then?” DaddyBear asked. He was answered by the sound of Elsked’s fork scraping against his plate as he munched away.

After a long while, during which their conversation consisted of one or two words about the quality of the food, Elsked popped the last bit of meat from his plate into his mouth, then gave out a loud burp. He jumped at his lack of manners, then looked sheepishly at his father. His fear of a reprimand disappeared when he saw the Minivandian wink at him.

“I’ll take that as a sign that you like the cuisine,” DaddyBear said. “Did you save room for dessert?”

Elsked groaned as he patted his stomach. “Oh, no, father, I’m stuffed like a mid-winter’s goose!” he replied. After a moment’s thought, he added, “But after a bit, I might have room for a cup of chocolate like they serve at the inn.”

The Minivandian’s laughter rumbled to every corner of the room as he left a jingling purse on the table and motioned Elsked toward the door. “Of course, my son,” he said with a broad smile. “How silly of me to think that I could find the limits of your appetite so easily.”

Together, father and son made their way back out into the stormy night and to their room at the inn. His belly full and his spirits lifted, Elsked did not feel the wind quite as much as he had during their walk to the tavern.

The Fourth Annual Indie Author Labor Day Sale!

Since it’s a nice, long weekend, and there’s no better way to spend a hot, lazy afternoon than with a good book, several authors have put their wares on sale for the weekend.  I’ve read almost all of these, and they’re excellent.

 

Rimworld- Into the Green

By JL Curtis

On sale  for $1.99 1-3 September.

http://amzn.to/2w9xxgT

After a chance encounter with Dragoons and Traders turns a routine planet exploration into a rout that kills his team and his career, Lieutenant Ethan Fargo, medically retired, wants nothing more than to hole up in the backwater Rimworld he’d explored and enjoy a quiet retirement far from people or problems.

Unfortunately, he’s about to find out that he’s not as retired as he wants to be, and that his new home system comes with dangers, politics, and Dragoon sightings of its own. What promised to be a boring retirement will turn out to be anything but.

Take the Star Road

by Peter Grant

$0.99 Sep 1- Sep 4

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00CS52I32/

Nineteen-year-old Steve Maxwell just wants to get his feet on the star road to find a better homeworld. By facing down Lotus Tong thugs, he earns an opportunity to become a spacer apprentice on a merchant spaceship, leaving the corruption and crime of Earth behind. Sure, he needs to prove himself to an older, tight-knit crew, but how bad can it be if he keeps his head down and the decks clean?

He never counted on the interstellar trade routes having their own problems, from local wars to plagues of pirates – and the jade in his luggage is hotter than a neutron star. Steve’s left a world of troubles behind, only to find a galaxy of them ahead…

Scaling the Rim

By Dorothy Grant

On sale for $0.99

Sept 1 – 4

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B06VT6VTYM

Never underestimate the power of a competent tech.

When Annika Danilova arrived at the edge of the colony’s crater to install a weather station, she knew the mission had been sabotaged from the start. The powers that be sent the wrong people, underequipped, and antagonized their supporting sometimes-allies. The mission was already slated for unmarked graves and an excuse for war…

But they hadn’t counted on Annika allying with the support staff, or the sheer determination of their leader, Captain Restin, to accomplish the mission. Together, they will overcome killing weather above and traitors within to fight for the control of the planet itself!

Carpathian Campaign

By Alma Boykin

https://www.amazon.com/Carpathian-Campaign-Powers-Book/dp/177342002X

It is on sale today through Wednesday, September 6 for $1.99. The sequel, Grasping for the Crowns will be out in November.

War rumors stalk Europe, but István Eszterházy has other concerns. Or so he thinks. The Powers—ancient creatures living on the very energy of the land. Allied with the Houses, together the Powers and Houses have guided parts of Europe for a thousand years and more, humans, HalfDragons, and True-dragons working as one. But other forces shift, movements of peoples and of pride. István ignores them, intent on his military duties and his forthcoming wedding. War waits for no man, and the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand turns rumor into red war, setting Power against Power and House against House. And war is not what István imagined. How can he survive this new world and protect his new family and his House? He must find a way, even as he begins a delicate dance with the Powers, that of his House and some far older and much more dangerous. István’s world is changing. He will survive this new campaign, or die trying.

Jade Star

By Cedar Sanderson

Free from Sept 2-4

https://www.amazon.com/Jade-Star-Tanager-Book-0-ebook/dp/B01JD1PGB4

Jade is determined to die. She is old, and useless, when she points her tiny subspace craft at the cold stars. She wakes up in the care of others who refuse to grant her death, and instead give her a new mission in life.

Jade isn’t happy, and she only gets angrier when she learns that her mysterious new home hides a horrible secret. It’s time for this old lady to kick butt and take names. Aliens, death, destruction… nothing trumps the fierce old woman who is protecting her family.

Dragon Blood: A Collection of Short Stories

By Sarah Hoyt

https://www.amazon.com/Dragon-Blood-Collection-Short-Stories-ebook/dp/B01M598E72

From the trenches of WWI where the Red Baron just can’t help turning into a dragon, to the desert sands of a future world where humans have become something else, from a coffee shop between worlds where magicians gather, to a place where your worst nightmare can love you, let Dragon Blood take you on a series of fantastic adventures.

Lucky Number 7: A Rats, Bats, and Vats Story

By Dave Freer

https://www.amazon.com/Lucky-Number-Rats-Bats-Story-ebook/dp/B06X9QH791

John Norway is an alcoholic, a double amputee combat veteran, a street beggar with nothing much to live for. But once — before conscription – he’d been a rally driver. One of the best, at the wheel of Lucky Number 7. Now… Ariel the rat wants to have him drive in a desperate race against death, and the ‘magh.

The only question: does Norway want to win that race?

And will it solve Fat Fal’s inflatable rattess problem?

Directorate School

by Pam Uphoff

 

Free through Wednesday

First Book of The Directorate Series

Ebsa “Kitchen” Clostuone invades the sacred precincts of the High Oners! The School of Directorate Studies has a wide variety of students, including the president’s daughter Paer, this strange Ra’d fellow, and Nighthawk, the first foreign student from Comet Fall. Ebsa wants to explore across the dimensions. And all he has to do is keep his grades up, learn how to shoot every kind of gun imaginable, and not get pounded by the Action Team trainees.

And last, but not least,

By Tom Rogneby

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B072M6JX5H

On sale from Sept 1 through the weekend

Elsked, son of DaddyBear the Minivandian and Ruarin, the Lady of Eyre, ventures out into the night to learn the saga of his mother and father.

An ancient storyteller exchanges tales of Elsked’s life for the story of how DaddyBear and Ruarin became the lord and lady of their manor.

Coming Home brings together the stories of Quest to the North, Lost Children, and Lady of Eyre, along with four new short tales of the Minivandian and his family.

Join Elsked as he creeps into the storyteller’s lair and comes to know the next Tales of the Minivandians

 

Lots of good reading in this list.  Hope everyone finds something they like!

Bonus Story

Here is another bonus story from “Coming Home“.  Please let me know what you think, and if you’ve read the entire book, please leave me a review on Amazon.


The Flying Beast Who Did Not Eat His Breakfast

 

The pilot, a young woman with a slender build, an easy smile, and a set of flashing blue eyes, patted her winged beast upon his feathered neck. He was of one of the smaller varieties of such animals, suitable only for short trips with light loads. The creature’s blue and white scales were brilliant in the light of the torches the maintenance gnomes had arrayed around his bulk so that they could see as they conducted their pre-flight rituals and checks. Downy winter plumage moved in the wind that even the large stone building next to him could not block completely.

“Are we ready?” the pilot asked the chief gnome, who stood close to the beast to warm himself with the heat radiating from the creature’s middle. Both were dressed in multiple layers of wool and fur, but even this could not completely protect them from the wind’s sharp edge.

The gnome looked up from his tablet, upon which he had written each of the tasks needed to prepare the beast for flight, and replied in a squeaky voice, “Everything is prepared, but I’m worried that he hasn’t eaten enough.”

“Oh?” the pilot, whose name was Elbee, said. “Will he have what he needs to get us there?”

“It says here he ate heartily at your last stop. I wouldn’t worry if it weren’t for this blasted weather!” the gnome said. He glared at the beast, who regarded him with half-lidded eyes the size of the small man’s head. “You’ll have to be careful to not drive him too hard or fight the wind too much.”

“We’ll manage,” Elbee said, giving her steed another pat on the head. This drew a deep purr from the beast as he nuzzled under her arm. “Besides, we’ve made it through worse weather, haven’t we, boy?” She scratched the small dragon behind the horns, which turned the buzz of his purr into a loud hum that almost drowned out the howl of the wind around them.

The gnome shook his head and walked over to the crew that was polishing and sharpening the long claw at the end of the beast’s right wing.

Gods save me from crazy pilots, he thought darkly. I just hope you don’t end up falling out of the sky while I’m underneath you.

The pilot watched him go, then shivered as a gust of icy wind raced across the plain of ascension to buffet both her and the beast. “Ready, boy?” she asked her steed. “It’s going to be a bumpy ride.”

 

Ruarin, Lady of Eyre and wife of the Minivandian, stepped through the door to the passenger cabin strapped to the blue and white beast’s back. She wore her healer’s cloak over a robe of fur and wool to ward off the winter’s cold, but even that only cut the chill from the night’s air. Around her, other passengers shivered as the wind whipped through the doorway, but memories of never-ending snowfields and frozen rivers made it easier for the Eyrischwoman to bear the discomfort.

She looked down at the ticket in her hand, then made her way to the seat at the very back of the compartment. She normally tried to sit closer to the front, but the summons to meet with other healers at the mouth of the Great River had arrived late the night before, and she had been lucky to find a suitable conveyance at all on such short notice.

After stowing her healer’s bag above her seat, Ruarin strapped herself in. She hoped that the message she had sent to her husband had made it through the storm. Lightning could wreak havoc on the connection between mages, and she did not want DaddyBear to worry when her flight back to the Port of Gnu was delayed several hours while the storm raged.

She had just finished saying her prayers to ask for protection against the weather when the curtain behind her parted. Snarglefist the She-Orc, resplendent in her blue and white robes of hospitality, stepped out and walked to the front of the cabin. After making sure that the appropriate number of passengers were on board and in their seats, she turned and smiled at her guests.

The flash of a nearby lightning bolt reflected off her long, sharply pointed teeth, drawing similar grimaces from nearby passengers. She was lovely, for an orc, with her broad, fuzzy chest, skin the consistency of rich, supple leather, long, well-muscled arms, and a head of course, dark hair that her mate had shaved on one side to reveal the intricate tattoos emblazoned upon her scalp. The rest of her mane had been knotted and braided so that it stood up into a crest of spikes and plumes.

Truly, Snarglefist was the most beautiful of orcish maidens.

After waiting for all of the other creatures aboard her winged beast to stop their chatter and turn their attention toward her, she called out, “Me, Snarglefist, beautiful youngest daughter of GLURG THE DESTROYER!” When Snarglefist said her father’s name, she shouted it out like the war cry it was while she pounded one knobby fist into the seat in front of her.

Her pond-green eyes flashing as if another bolt had descended from the heavens, Snarglefist continued, “Me, maiden of hospitality! You sit! No do stupid or me beat you like elf caught on shelf! Listen me when we crash! Me bring food and fizzy sweet water once we no touch earth. You pray now! Enjoy trip!”

Her duties complete, she walked back to her seat behind Ruarin and strapped herself in. Soon, the rumbling of her voice filled the cabin as she grasped at the charm around her neck and prayed to the gods of the storm for safe passage.

The Lady of Eyre chuckled to herself as she took in the shocked looks on the other passengers’ faces.

She always finds the best way to get her point across, Ruarin mused as she closed her eyes and began to recite the traveler’s prayer.

 

Elbee wiped the frozen rain from her goggles as she guided the winged beast to the end of the runway. The maintenance gnomes had been able to get a few potions of energy down his throat, but he had turned her nose up even at the barrel of salted fish they had offered him. Elbee had considered cancelling the flight, but after consulting with the mage of meteorology, she had decided they could manage the flight if she could find a way to stay out of the path of the strongest winds.

The beast paused for a moment at the end of the plain as he took several deep breaths to prepare himself for the exertions of taking off in such conditions. He stuck his nose into the wind and began a long, loping run as he tried to gain enough speed to drag himself up from the field. At the very end of the runway, he leapt into the air, beating his leathery wings against the shrieking gale to claw his way into the sky. With a roar of triumph, he cleared the high fence that separated the place of landing from the neighborhood in which the local folk slept.

Elbee cheered him on as he fought to gain altitude while frigid winds tossed them first one way, then the other. Pellets of ice quickly replaced the cold rain and snow, and they beat a tattoo against his hard scales as they soared upward toward the mountains. The downy feathers covering his body rippled in the breeze as the muscles in his wings and back fought against the wind to drive him ever upward.

 

Snarglefist peered out the window as another bolt of lightning, this one close enough to make the wiry hair on her knuckles stand on end, ripped across the sky. In its glare, she saw dark clouds towering up into the heavens, looking as if someone had released a cohort of titans to batter the winged beast back to the earth far below.

With a shrug, she rose from her tiny seat and began to hum to herself. The She-Orc pulled a basket from one of the cupboards above her head and walked down the narrow aisle between the seats in which her terrified guests sat. While even the bravest of her passengers looked worried, she kept a serene smile upon her muzzle. Where some of them swayed with the motion of the cabin, she kept a steady foot upon the floor as she walked to the front of the compartment.

“Stay sit!” she shouted over the din. “No untie from chair! I bring food! No worry! Stay sit!”

As she walked back to the rear of the cabin, she gave each of her passengers a small packet of dried bread knots from the basket and a tiny flask of fizzy drink from a pocket in her tunic. The young Chanani woman sitting two rows in front of Ruarin stopped her as she went.

“Might I have wine instead?” she asked, her voice pitched to be heard over the rattle of the cabin as the wind tried to wrestle it away from the winged beast. “My nerves are frayed from all this.”

“No booze!” Snarglefist snarled in reply. “Trip too short! Drink sweet fizzy! Make you pretty like me!” She shoved an extra flask into the surprised woman’s hand and moved on with her task.

Ruarin accepted her snack from the She-Orc with a gracious smile and shouted thanks, then settled back. She had attempted to read one of the many scrolls she had brought with her from the conference of healers, but the detailed description of a malady afflicting the people of the Aztlani highlands made her stomach do flip-flops and her head scream. She put it away for another time and lay back to try to sleep through the worst of the flight.

 

Elbee looked down, trying to find a landmark to guide her, but the ground below was masked with darkness and mist. Finally, she saw the bright blue light of the signal fire upon Widow’s Peak, and tugged at the reins to turn the winged beast more toward the north.

“First checkpoint!” she shouted into the tube next to her saddle. “It’s not going to be quite as smooth for the next little bit. Make sure the passengers are comfortable!”

 

Snarglefist took the tube from her ear and nodded. “Time for magic,” she grunted as she touched the switch controlling the mystical elven box of cooking. A few moments later, the sound of a silver bell told her that the treat she had prepared for her charges was ready. Taking care to not burn her delicate fingers or singe any of the whiskers on her chin, she took a tray of fragrant rolls out of the magical oven and walked back down the aisle.

One by one, she gave each of her passengers one of the rolls, which were filled with rich chocolate, along with a small flask of apple brandy from the second pocket of her tunic. This was received with great joy and relief by some who wished to distract themselves with something pleasant, while others looked at the treat as an ominous sign of things to come.

“Stay sit!” Snarglefist admonished the passengers. “Chalk’lit and fire apple water make happy!”

The Chanani woman took her share with trembling fingers and immediately drank her entire flask of brandy. Snarglefist reassured her with a gentle thump on the shoulder, saying, “We get through storm soon. Eat good food, for soon you stand at feet of storm god!” The young elvish woman looked up at her in shock.

Across the aisle from Ruarin, a matronly old woman dressed in blue silken robes rose to retrieve something from her bag. Snarglefist roared as she reached out and gripped her by the shoulder. With a heave that almost caused her to drop the last of the chocolate rolls, the She-Orc tossed the matron back into her seat.

“I say stay sit!” she squealed at the older woman. “You want die?” The lady in blue looked up in shock at her reaction, then quickly strapped herself back into her seat. Snarglefist humphed at her once more before distributing the last of her treats. Finally, she returned the now-empty tray to the oven and sat down in her own seat.

 

Elbee frowned underneath her thick woolen face covering. Her beast was taking in huge gulps of air, then breathing them out in long streamers of smoke and steam. She could feel the heat of the creature’s exertions rising from beneath her seat, and even more worrying, small tongues of orange and blue flame occasionally blew from his nostrils as he exhaled.

“Too much, boy?” she shouted, reaching down to pat his neck. The dragon lifted his head a bit to look back at her, then returned to straining against the wind.

We’ll never make it over the mountains like this, Elbee thought. Time to take the other path.

She squeezed down on the beast’s shoulders with her knees and tugged hard to the right with the reins.

“Come on, boy!” she whooped as she felt her steed slip lower and wheel downward. “Tonight, we fly the Tail of the Dragon!” Sensing her excitement, the beast roared into the wind as he descended toward the mouth of a narrow canyon far below.

 

Snarglefist nodded knowingly as she felt the front of the compartment dip and the shriek of the wind outside changed in tone. After glancing out her portal to confirm her suspicions, she looked up at the heavens and smiled.

“Tonight,” she muttered in the sonorous tones of cultured orcish, “we fly between the legs of the storm god!”

The Maiden of Hospitality reached down and used her thumbnail to cut through the cord holding a box made from sturdy pine shut. “EMERGENCY USE ONLY!” was burned into its wood in several languages. Inside, she found thirty spun glass flasks containing a clear liquid that seemed to glow like star fire in the gloom.

“Good news!” she bellowed as she picked up the box and made her way to the front of the cabin. “We no go over mountain!” Several passengers, who probably thought that this meant a safe return to the place of embarkation, cheered at her words.

With an exultant sigh, Snarglefist turned to regard her charges. “We get big honor tonight!” she roared. “Elbee take us between mountains. Only best flyers do this on good days!”

Ruarin realized what the She-Orc meant a moment before the Chanani maiden did. “Do you mean we are going to fly through the canyons?” the she-elf demanded in a high squeal.

Snarglefist grinned broadly as she handed the first bottles of moonshine to the young couple seated in the front row. “Yes!” she shouted back. “Drink deep and pray to wind goddess! We ride Dragon’s Tail while she rend sky!”

Ruarin closed her eyes and intoned a prayer for protection and forgiveness of sins as Snarglefist passed out corn liquor to the rest of her passengers. When she reached the Lady of Eyre, she lifted the last flask as if it were a holy offering, then whispered, “Drink deep, lady. This give you strength for what come soon.”

Ruarin nodded in thanks and uncorked the flask. She had taken her first swallow of the harsh, raw whisky when the beast wheeled over to the left and flew between the two tall rocks marking the entrance to the canyon. Snarglefist barely had time to strap herself in before the cabin floor bucked up, then slammed down as Elbee guided the dragon through the first of the mountain path’s obstacles.

 

Lightning flashed high overhead as Elbee hauled on the reins to turn the beast away from a jagged rock that seemed to leap out from the canyon wall. Beneath her, she could hear the beast grunting as it fought to overcome the shrieking wind at their backs, but the heat from his fires was lessening beneath her saddle.

Praise the gods, she thought as she squeezed her knees to urge the dragon downward to avoid a stone bridge spanning the canyon. He’s not as tired as he was before.

We’ll need everything he’s got, she added grimly as she again wiped the sleet from her goggles.

Thunder boomed as a bolt of lightning split the canyon face immediately behind them, throwing the beast and the air around it into a ball of white light that temporarily blinded Elbee as they plunged deeper into the canyon.

Elbee whooped in glee as she felt the beast rise beneath her, catching his claws for a moment on an outcropping before leaping off into the darkness once more. The beast answered her call with a roar as he spouted blue-white flames from his nostrils. Their cries echoed from the walls, chasing the thunder as they flew onward up the canyon.

 

Ruarin felt her stomach turn over again as the cabin shuddered around her. She clutched the empty whisky flask as if it were a talisman, while around her the other passengers cried out in fear.

Over the noise of the wind and the shrieks of the terrified, she could hear Snarglefist singing at the top of her lungs in a flat baritone:

Over mountain we go!
Through the wind and snow!
Wind no drive us from the sky!
GLURG people never die!

Suddenly, their flight smoothed as if they had passed through some barrier beyond which the winds held no power. For a moment, everyone gaped at the lack of tumult and noise, then their cries began anew.

“We’ve died!” the Chanani maiden sobbed, burying her head in her delicate hands. “That maniac has ridden us into the side of a mountain!”

“We no dead!” Snarglefist said cheerfully, clapping her hard on the back. “Captain Elbee just get us through mountains. We almost home!”

Indeed, out her window, Ruarin could make out the lights of a city far below them. Thin wisps of cloud slipped past them as she felt the dragon gently wheel downward toward the place of landing.

Soon, the lights of the city blurred beneath them as she heard the wind rushing around the beast’s wings. Then, with a bump and another roar from the dragon, they were on the ground.

 

Elbee stretched down and scratched the beast behind his horns as he trotted toward the twinkling torches of their resting spot. A cohort of gnomes waited for them in the freezing wind next to the debarking ladders, mule-drawn carts for the passengers’ baggage, and a large barrel of fish.

The beast let out a final, contented puff of steaming breath before settling down on his haunches and folding his wings underneath the passenger cabin on his back.

“Good boy!” Elbee exclaimed. She unstrapped herself from her saddle and clambered closer to the dragon’s head. She scratched with both hands while heaping praise upon her steed. “You made it!”

One of the maintenance gnomes tugged a hand cart bearing the fish barrel close to the beast’s muzzle, then gasped as he thrust his head into the food. Within moments, the barrel was half empty, and the flying beast showed no sign of slowing down.

“He must be almost empty, my lady!” the gnome squeaked as Elbee carefully climbed down from her perch. The pilot nodded as she tried to work the kinks out of her legs.

“He certainly had to work at this night’s journey, that’s for sure!” she said tiredly before turning to greet her passengers as they descended from the cabin.

 

The passengers waited until Snarglefist signaled that it was safe to stand before untying themselves from their chairs and gathering their things. The She-Orc ran a hand through her stiff hair and made her way to the front.

“Me know you could have walked through storm or taken carriage over mountains instead of flying with us, and me thank you for opportunity to face death with you tonight!” she intoned as the passengers lined up at the door. Outside, they could hear the gnomes unlocking the portal and preparing the ladder for them.

“Me wish all good travels and luck to you this night!” she exclaimed as the door opened with a creak and the passengers surged forward. The Chanani maiden, her face an ashen white, took wobbly steps toward the door.

“You brave!” Snarglefist growled to her, admiration showing in her gravelly voice. “Me wish to fly with you again!”

The elvish woman gaped at her in shock before she nodded and stammered, “Thank you. Perhaps we shall meet again, maybe even in this world.” Snarglefist gave her a belly laugh as she helped her out the door and onto the ladder.

Finally, the Lady of Eyre came to the door. She was the last of the passengers, so Snarglefist followed her down. The ladder was slick with ice, but after the flight through the mountains, that seemed but a little danger to them.

“Thank you,” Ruarin said once they were safely on the ground. Banks of compacted snow showed where someone had shoveled the flagstones clean, and tall drifts obscured the outline of the hall into which the rest of the passengers were trudging. A glaze of ice covered everything else, and several of the gnomes slipped as they brought their carts over to unload luggage from the nets slung alongside the passenger cabin.

“Me have good news, lady,” Snarglefist said quietly. “Me and mate buy farm just down road from you.”

“Oh, that’s wonderful!” Ruarin said, reaching out to the She-Orc and embracing her. “New neighbors.”

“Yes, we take cave in hill next to water,” Snarglefist said as she and the Lady of Eyre walked toward the hall. “Maybe you bring boy to play with daughter?”

“Nothing would make me happier, Snarglefist,” Ruarin agreed. “I shall tell my husband once I get back to the inn.”

Together, the Lady of Eyre and the Maiden of Hospitality walked into the welcome warmth of the hall of flying. Behind them, Elbee watched as her flying beast finished his meal and burped out a long tongue of blue flame to show his appreciation.

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