A peek ahead

19 Sep

The second edition of The House in the Old Wood (Book One) contains a preview of Karia’s Path (Book Two). It’s the first chapter of Karia’s Path. And here it is for you:


Dust sprayed into the air, shrouding the young man in a choking haze, when the large horse skidded to a stop. The man pulled the reins to the right, wheeling the horse in a tight circle as he vainly tried to scan the rocks around him. The dust was too thick to make out the weathered carvings. Turning was just stirring up more dust.

He cursed, pulling on the reins without realizing it. The horse reared, and surprise combined with the weight of the bulky pack on his back almost flung him to the ground. He wasn’t sure how he managed to stay in the saddle, but as the horse settled back he patted its neck.

“Steady, Nebok,” he said.

He silently cursed again, and sighed. He was impatient with worry, but there was nothing to do but wait until he could see clearly. He blinked his eyes and coughed. In a few moments it was clear enough that he could tell he had left the trail – again.

He turned his horse and followed his own tracks carefully back, scanning until his eye caught something. He stopped, then spurred Nebok closer. Yes, there it was. A small carving that looked like an obelisk set in a circle. It was ancient, so worn by time that it was barely visible, but still there nonetheless. He wheeled and spurred his horse forward, believing he had found the road again. He scanned ahead for the next carving.

The beast was made for heavy work, not speed, and Gerik was a pretty good load. He was only nineteen but he already stood over six feet tall. His shoulders seemed almost that broad as well. Despite his size, he was still getting a pretty good pace out of the draft animal he had recruited to carry him.

Regardless of his pace, he was trying to watch for the carvings. His eyes scanned from side to side. Some of the markings appeared at first to be simply features of the rocks. And sometimes the natural shape of a rock mimicked what was left of a carving. If Akamon, the hunter, had not pointed out the markings to him, he never would have noticed them. These were the only signs of the one safe way through the rocky hills. If he lost them, he would have to backtrack – as he already had done four times – or he could end up lost forever in the maze they called the rocky hills. Even a compass was unreliable here; something in the rocks sent the needle wildly spinning.

So he was forced to try to follow the faint signs of the ancient road, which he missed every so often. And every second he lost was a second less that he had to save Karia.

He set out a little more than an hour ago, and that was less than ten minutes after the disturbing visit from Akamon. Gerik was busy at the smithy. The town was still in an uproar after what seemed like scores of cavalry came through from east to west the day before.

Drical, a farm boy in town with his mom for some supplies, claimed to have counted one hundred twenty-four, before his mom hustled him back to the wagon and out of town to their farm. The apothecarist, Gabric Minter, who was so obese and so pompous that he needed two names, made some people believe he may actually have been telling the truth about once being a cavalryman. He identified the troopers as hussars – fast, light troops intended for quick strikes.

A few of the hussars stopped at the western edge of town and kept anyone from leaving in that direction. They would not say why. Rumors of an invasion began to rumble. The name “Inamali” was whispered; had they come back?

The talk became more urgent when, a few hours later, more troops arrived. These, Gabric Minter said, were dragoons – heavily armed elite cavalry. Some took the place of the light cavalry on the edge of town, who then sped off westward. More dragoons commandeered the inn, and a small detachment under a lieutenant took over the miller’s house and turned him and his family out into the street. They looked nervous there; the apothecarist hurried to take them into his shop and home. It was neither charity nor hospitality; he saw it as a way to elevate people’s view of his social standing.

Just as some were beginning to debate whether they should rebel in the face of an invasion – which cooler heads pointed out was a bit premature – four wagons arrived. One was a prison wagon, enclosed with bars in the back. But these were not the iron bars of a typical prison wagon. These were different from anything anyone had seen: bright, white-silver. Next, two covered wagons carried about a dozen Dr’Zhak each into town. All of these pulled up to the pub at the intersection – the only intersection in town. The fourth wagon, also covered, pulled up to the miller’s house, where five hooded and robed men got out. Crimson peeked out from the bottom of their tan robes.

Not long afterward a single rider rode hard up to the dragoons at the western edge of town, stopping to ask something. His haste was clear in the fact that his horse was spent, and there it fell. The man ran on foot to the miller’s.

Shortly after that a wagon and a squad of dragoons headed off to the west. For the rest of the day and all through this morning, all seemed quiet. The people of the town stayed indoors except for a few folks who had work to do, and a few brave busybodies spreading rumors. Gerik and his dad opened the smithy, knowing there would be work for them. His dad surmised that pushing wagons and horses over the old roads in the area meant repairs would be needed. He was correct.

Another messenger sped into town a little before noon, and soon after that another wagon and a squad of dragoons started down the small road south of town. They returned an hour later with Akamon in tow. The others went to the miller’s while Akamon came to the smithy.

Gerik noticed as Akamon approached that he was dressed for hunting. He wore a rugged leather coat that used to be black, but now was mostly charcoal gray and in many places worn to a brown almost the same shade as his weather-beaten face. His low, broad-brimmed hat came right down to his eyebrows, providing enough shade not only for his deep blue eyes but also for his long, sharp nose. He wore his tall leather boots, and carried a ratty old pack and an immaculate longbow and quiver. Akamon may have let other things go, but he was always careful with his bow and arrows. Though he was ostensibly a farmer, hunting was how he made a living, hunting and tracking, and no one knew this region better than Akamon.

“Reshoe my horse, boy,” Akamon said in the odd drawl that Gerik could never seem to place.

“Didn’t my dad just …”

“Shut up and reshoe my horse, boy,” Akamon interrupted, and then, leaning closer and speaking more quietly, “We need to talk.”

Gerik picked up his clinch cutter and hammer, and went to work on the front right hoof. As he worked, Akamon spoke softly almost directly into his ear.

“Listen good. Yellow-skinned bastards say they’ll kill my wife if I don’t help ‘em. So I need you to mess ‘em up. And I think you’re gonna want to.

“Came and told me I was gonna track something – that’s what they said, thing – and then said it was a girl. About fifteen. Five-foot-seven, eight or so. Auburn hair. Pale and skinny. After that, the funniest thing – almost like poetry after all that – ‘eyes so blue they make the seas jealous.’ Sound familiar, boy?”

Gerik nodded. He knew why Akamon had come to him. On more than one hunting trip he had told Akamon of his intention to pursue Karia, and described her to him. What he didn’t understand was why they wanted Karia. And apparently they wanted her quite badly. He also didn’t understand why it seemed to matter so much to him.

Akamon continued. “Said they lost it – it, they called her – in the Old Wood, and they needed me to find it. Made a big deal that this was very valuable to them, and they’d reward me well. Also made a big deal that I was to find her and then stay back, because she was dangerous – very dangerous.

“I asked ‘em what made a fifteen-year-old skinny girl dangerous, and they told me I didn’t need to know.”

Gerik was puzzled. Karia? Dangerous?

“So here’s the deal, boy. I’m gonna take ‘em, at wagon speed, over the road to the farm where that girl lives, and then I know exactly where to go. They’ve got soldiers watching the bridge, and the only other way she can get out of there is the ford. You remember where that is, boy?”

Gerik nodded. The farm of Karia and her family, and two other families, was the only one west of the Heldasfar River. West and south of her farm was ocean, mostly a rocky, inaccessibly coastline. Northward lay rugged, impenetrable mountains. One old stone bridge crossed the Heldasfar, and well north of that was a ford, where the river was wide and shallow.

“Good,” Akamon said. “If you take the old road through the rocky hills at a gallop, you can be there hours before me. Find her tracks and cover your tracks and hers. And find her and get her out of there. You got it, boy?”

Gerik nodded, but uncertainly. The old road at a gallop? It was hard to follow the weathered obelisk-shaped markings at a walk.

Akamon saw his uncertainty. “You listen to me hard, boy, hard! These red-eyed hrukikili are vicious, and that girl needs you.”

Gerik had no idea what a hrukikili was, but he guessed it wasn’t a nice word. He was also confused, because he had never heard Akamon sprinkle Inamali words into his speech before.

“Don’t waste any time. Pack like you would for a long hunting trip. Anyone asks, that’s what you’re doing. Want to get out of town while it’s all astir.”

He saw continued uncertainty on Gerik’s face.

“What is wrong with you, boy?! That girl needs you!”

“I … I broke it off with her,” he said.

Akamon got right in front of Gerik’s face, and hissed, “Then do it because I asked you to, and because any girl is worth saving from those speckle-chested snakes.”

Gerik nodded, then said, “I can’t hide our tracks well enough that you won’t find them.”

“You don’t need to. In fact, I’m counting on that. They won’t see them, and I’ll know where you went so I can lead ‘em elsewhere.”

“Now, finish up with the shoes, then go, get your things, boy. You’ve got three hours on me. At most, four. And she may have as much as a day on you.”

When Gerik finished, Akamon slowly walked from the shop. Gerik hurriedly tidied up and nodded to his dad. His dad was hard of hearing from years of hammering on metal in the smithy, and – to keep from yelling so loudly the whole town could hear – most of their conversation consisted of nods and smiles. Gerik was thankful for that now as he hurried home.

He gathered his hunting gear and had just opened the back door to step back into the yard of the smithy when his mom called out to him.

“Gerik, what are you doing?”

“I’m going hunting, Ma’am,” he replied. He decided it was best to not tell her what he was actually doing.

“But with the troops in town, there’s likely to be more work at the smithy,” she said.

“I just have to get out of here, Ma’am,” he said.

“I’ll be fine at the smithy,” Gerik’s dad said, loudly, from right behind him. Gerik was surprised. He had not heard his dad approach. He turned to look at his dad as the man said to his mom – or actually, hollered, “Elestra, your boy just needs to get out away from all the ruckus. Let him go.”

His dad smiled at him, and Gerik, in the moment before he started briskly walking to his horse, smiled and wondered just how much his dad had actually heard or figured out.

Order your copy of Karia’s Path

2 Responses to “A peek ahead”


  1. Do I have to draw you a map? | by Ian Fallis - September 27, 2013

    […] First chapter […]

  2. 2 … | by Ian Fallis - November 16, 2013

    […] The first chapter of Book 2, Karia’s Path […]

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