This is the first chapter of my upcoming book, "Wyvern", Book 1 of the Wyvern Trilogy. It is now available at these stores:
Pelya’s sapphire-blue eyes sparkled in the heavy afternoon sun. She slouched in the saddle, studying the village resting at the intersection of two insignificant roads that cut through the endless farmlands of Altordan.
Sounds of a few industrious townsfolk and children at play drifted above the maddening buzz of insects that had dominated her hearing since leaving Dralin. A mild breeze alleviated the worst of the fall heat and rustled tomato vines that dominated the landscape.
Altordan was a large country existing primarily to protect and provide for Dralin, its capital. Well-maintained highways spoked outward like a jagged wagon wheel from the city to other countries, but Pelya was avoiding those. They were crowded and she wanted peace and solitude to think.
Honey, her beautiful chestnut warhorse with blonde mane, flicked a tail at biting flies. A disinterested packhorse tethered to Pelya’s saddle nosed a bit of grass that had grown in the middle of the rutted road. It whinnied, probably wanting a true meal.
A family wearing simple clothing and wide-brimmed hats collected ripe tomatoes amongs the vines in the distance to Pelya’s right. They kept glancing in her direction as though worried she would steal their livelihood.
It wouldn’t be hard if she were so inclined. Pelya adjusted the chain-reinforced leather sword belt around her waist. She was a master with the pair of enchanted swords that rested in sheaths at her hips.
She wouldn’t steal from the worried family. Pelya had spent her entire life in the Dralin City Guard learning that it was important to protect people, not harm them. Her father had raised her along with more than a thousand Guardmembers she called her aunts and uncles.
She didn’t wear that uniform anymore. Now, a form-fitting black tunic and pants, both with intricate designs of mystic silver thread, covered her powerful, six-foot frame. She looked down at the priceless clothes. Even after days of dust and mud on the road, they were spotless thanks to enchantments Ebudae had sewn into the clothing.
A twinge of distress twisted Pelya’s heart. More than anyone, she missed the impudent and powerful wizardess who had been her best friend. Pelya tugged at her long, jet-black braid with a gloved hand to knock the feeling away. It didn’t help, so she gave Honey a gentle nudge with polished boots and continued toward the village.
Six days had passed since her banishment from Dralin for killing a chancellor of the High Council. The events kept looping through her memory. She and others had uncovered a plot to overthrow the High Council and create a new god. A battle in the ruins below Dralin had destroyed the god and foiled the plot, but even that couldn’t save her from banishment. To make matters worse, Pelya had been having nightmares about the battle and the yellow-eyed monks who had been possessed by the god.
Pelya rode into the quaint village. A hodgepodge of small businesses, the largest of which was a two-story inn, surrounded the main intersection. Pelya was grateful for its presence. She had camped under the stars since leaving, and while her clothes might stay magically clean, her body didn’t.
A burly blacksmith with cropped hair stopped hammering on a plow. She waved at him and received a surprise smile and wave of his hammer in return. There was also a tanner’s shop, a woodworker and a small market she might visit the next day to resupply. The buildings were painted and well maintained by the hardworking folk.
A group of elderly women wearing bonnets and long, pastel dresses sat in a shady area under some trees. They stopped their sewing and stared at Pelya for a moment. She greeted them with a wave as well. They briskly nodded in return before going back to work. Pelya ignored the way they huddled together and whispered. It was what old women did.
Across the intersection from the inn, a soldier came out of a small building. He was straightening the chain shirt he had just put on before taking his sword belt from an apprentice who hadn’t quite reached manhood. The apprentice was wide-eye and unsure in his steps as he brushed aside too-long hair while checking his own sword.
Pelya dismounted as she reached the intersection so she would be eye level with the men and not so intimidating.
The soldiers approached with determination. The elder of the two had a great deal of grey in his carroty hair and a hitch in his self-important step. The muscular arm he held up in greeting belied his advanced age. His vibrating, tenor voice carried through the quiet air “Hello traveler. I’m Sergeant Pifflin of the Altordan army. What’s your business here?”
“Just passing through, Sergeant.” Pelya hoped he wouldn’t be too friendly. “I intend to spend the night at your inn and then be on my way. You’ll get no trouble from me.”
“See that we don’t!” Sergeant Pifflin puffed out his chest. “I may not be in my prime, but I can still hold my own.” He stepped forward as though to intimidate Pelya. “I’ve got the might of Altordan behind me too. Something happens to me and you’ll have the army to deal with.”
Pelya was half a foot taller and could have taken him even when he was in his prime. She had just finished killing a god, so the threat of an army didn’t impress her. Instead of telling the man that, she merely repeated herself. “You’ll get no trouble from me.”
“Ah, well, good then.” Sergeant Pifflin hooked his thumbs in his belt. “Where do you hail from?”
“I’ll be at the inn, Sergeant.” Pelya led her horse around him and toward the stables.
The man stared after her for a minute before turning to his apprentice and shrugging. The apprentice shrugged back.
As Pelya entered the inn’s stable yard, a chipper young woman in her mid-teens came out of a stall, brushing hay off durable pants and a light shirt. Her voice was as lively as her manner. “Hi! I’m Terry. Would you like your horses cared for?” She pulled strands of her ponytail to tighten it in the string that bound it.
“Yes, I’ll be spending the night. Do I pay you or the innkeeper?”
“You’ll pay my pa. He’s the innkeeper.” Terry took the reins Pelya handed her and looked at Honey in admiration. “She’s a beaut!”
Honey nuzzled the girl’s neck.
“Her name is Honey. She’s the finest steed you’ll ever meet.” Pelya detached her saddlebags and slung them over her left shoulder. They had her most valuable possessions.
“I’ll take the best care of them both. Shall I bring in the rest of your bags?” Terry asked.
“After the horses are cared for.” Pelya handed her a silver coin.
Terry took it and then tried to hand it back. “You’ll want to pay pa inside. He handles all the money.”
Pelya shook her head. “I’ll pay your pa. That’s for you.”
Terry’s jaw dropped. “A silver? For me? I can’t.” She tried to hand it back, but Pelya was already walking away.
Upon entering the bright common room, Pelya stood for a moment and looked around. The shutters were open on the windows to let fresh air circulate. Straw littered the floor to soak up mud and spills. The stools and table were sturdy wood, likely made by a local artisan. Four old men stopped talking to stare at her from a table near an open window. She nodded at them and they nodded back.
Near the stairs, Terry’s pa sat behind a counter that served as the bar and the hotel desk. He was a stout man with clean clothes and short, tangled hair. He waved Pelya over with a hairy hand. “Can I help you?”
She went over. “How much is a room for one night and meals? I also have two horses to be stabled, one of which is a warhorse. The other is a packhorse.”
The innkeeper stood in alarm. “A warhorse?” He looked toward the door Pelya had come in. “Terry . . .”
“Is fine,” Pelya reassured him. “Honey likes her. How much?” She pulled out her coin purse and undid the strings. She had more coin and gem pouches hidden within her shirt.
The innkeeper looked at the door again before sitting back down. “It’ll be three coppers for the room, two for the meals, not including ale . . .” he noticed the quality of her clothes, “. . . or wine if that’s what you prefer. I’ve got a few bottles, but they’re expensive. Not much call for it out here. The warhorse is another three coppers and the packhorse two, so . . .” He did the math in his head. “Ten copper pieces, or one silver.”
It was much less than Pelya, used to city prices, had imagined. No wonder Terry had been so surprised by the tip. Pelya fished out two silver, hardly lightning the pouch at all. She pushed them forward on the counter. “I’ll want a bath as well. Keep the extra.”
The innkeeper picked up the coins with an expression of surprise on his face. “Thank you. That’s more than generous.”
Pelya considered for a moment. “I should let you know that I also gave Terry a silver piece. I don’t want you thinking she came by it dishonestly.”
Surprise became astonishment. “For a girl?”
Pelya leaned forward intimidatingly. Her voice gained an edge. “Yes. For a girl. Where’s my room and where can I get the bath?”
The innkeeper shrank back. “Your room is the last one on the right. It’s the quietest. I’ll send someone when we have the bath ready for you.” He composed himself. “Will you take meals down here or in your room?”
“I’ll take dinner in my room and breakfast down here.” Pelya moved to the stairs.
He called after her as she climbed. “Did you want to use one of our locks? It’ll be no charge for you.”
“I have my own.” A moment later, Pelya reached the second floor and headed down the narrow hallway. There were six plain doors on each side and a second stairway at the other end with a rope blocking it, likely for servants.
Pelya entered her room and set the saddlebags on the lone table. The bed had a straw mattress and clean sheets with a crocheted blanket and a pillow. A nightstand had a candle, a pitcher of water and a bowl for washing up. Two chairs were the only other things in the room.
Pelya went to the window and opened the shutters. There were a few houses lining the street behind the inn and a group of young children playing. She wondered what it would have been like to be raised in a village like this.
She sat at the edge of the bed and stared blankly at the wall until there was a knock at the door sometime later. Pelya groaned from stiff muscles as she stood and went to open it.
Terry stood there with Pelya’s bags. “I have two more trips, but it won’t take me long at all. Oh, and your bath is ready.”
“Thank you.” Pelya took the bags. “I let your father know that I gave you a silver, so don’t hide it from him.” She closed the door, leaving Terry to stare wide-eyed. Pelya’s hunch had been correct. She opened the door again and saw Terry slipping under the rope of the service entrance. “Where is my bath?” Pelya asked.
Terry unhooked the rope. “It’s down here in the back. I can take you.”
“One moment.” Pelya retrieved her lock from her saddlebags. She closed the door and hooked the lock on the latch made for that purpose.
She didn’t think anyone would try to steal her things, but to be on the safe side, she cast a simple alarm ward on the door. It was something Ebudae had taught her. A few loose strands of braided hair gusted around Pelya’s face as the magical breeze of casting swirled. It wasn’t a strong spell, or the breeze would have been fiercer. Terry’s jaw hung open when Pelya turned to her. “What’s wrong, Terry?”
“You’re a wizard? I thought since you wear swords . . .”
Pelya moved past her and headed down the stairs. “I’m not a wizard, but knowing the occasional spell is convenient. No more questions now.” At the bottom of the stairs, she stepped aside to let the girl take the lead again.
Terry stopped and opened her mouth to ask another question, but Pelya’s warning glance was enough to shut it.
After a long bath, Pelya retired to her room. When dinner came, she ate without tasting. She locked the door from the inside after finishing and putting the wooden tray of empty dishes on the floor of the hall.
Pelya sat on the bed, brought her knees up and broke down into quiet tears. The young woman was beginning to feel the burden of being alone. She missed her father. She missed Ebudae. She missed the Guard and all her aunts and uncles.
Pelya longed for the sounds and smells of the chaotic city. There was always danger in Dralin. Staying alive was a vague proposition on the best of days. She missed the adventures with Ebudae into the ruins underneath the city.
Now she was out in the world farther than she had ever been before, resting in a quiet little inn. There was no danger. Anyone with a silver piece was rich. At times in her travels, there wouldn’t be a building or a person in sight. She could stand on a rock and stare for miles in every direction. It was unnerving.
Pelya dozed off a few times in between fits of crying. It was terrible to be alone.
She was not handling it well.
Pelya saw fear in the milky-yellow eyes of the god. He wore a brown robe spattered with iridescent gold. His arms reached out for her.
Then it switched to a different face mutated by anger with eyes of yellow fire. The robes were violent red. Its arms flailed as though scolding her.
A woman’s face rotated into view. Her robes were a riot of colors that pained the senses. She had no eyes and her hands were clasped to her chest in despair and confusion.
A thousand monks surrounded Pelya. Their yellow eyes blinked in unison.
Pelya sat upright in a cold sweat. She threw aside the covers and scanned the room. To her relief, there were no monks, nor a Crazed God.
The floor was cool under her feet as she moved to the window. In the east, a touch of morning light lined the horizon with the promise of another clear, warm day. At one of the houses, the silhouette of a woman yawned and stretched on the front step in anticipation of the day.
Pelya sat on the bed and buried her face in her hands for a moment, trying to find the willpower to make it through another day. Eventually, she gathered her bags and heading downstairs.
The morning innkeeper, a young man who was probably the innkeeper’s son, served her porridge for breakfast. He didn’t notice her glum manner as she ate quickly and slipped out of the empty common room.
Terry was sleeping in the stables next to Honey’s stall. She jumped up, startled when Pelya dropped the saddlebags noisily. “Huh? Oh! I was hoping to catch you before you left.” Terry wiped the sleep from her eyes. “I wanted you to know that I took the best care of both horses. I bathed them and had the blacksmith come and check their shoes.”
“That is exceptional service. Thank you. Can I trust you with these saddlebags while I get the rest of my things?”
“Let me get them for you! Then I’ll get your tack and gear on the horses. You sit and take it easy. Have you had breakfast?”
Terry waited, expecting more of an answer. “. . . Oh. Can I enter your room or is the lock still there?”
“You can enter. There is no lock and I’ve removed the wards.” Pelya greeted Honey, who snorted and bumped her cheek over the gate of the stall.
“I’ll be done in a bit then.” Terry ran off.
Pelya went out to the stable yard. It was empty. She decided to stretch and exercise.
It didn’t take Terry long to bring down the bags and pull the horses out of their stalls.
After stretching, Pelya felt limber, so she drew her main sword. As with almost any weapon purchased in the City of Dralin, it had magic. This was partially because there were so many mages and their apprentices to enchant them and partially because a person needed one to be effective in battle against the wizards that populated the city. The sword was made of light steel and darted through the air like a hummingbird while she practiced with it.
She drew her secondary sword and did a cursory examination. It was shorter than her main, but much more deadly. The blade was the width of two fingers at the crossbar. Its sharpened edges tapered gradually to the point. The metal glistened in the dawn light, showing no runes even though it held powerful magic. The blade didn’t look like steel, silver or any other metal she had seen, it was softer somehow. Pelya stepped back and hefted it. It was very light and the braided hilt fit nicely in her hand.
Pelya rolled her shoulders and spun the blades. She moved her legs and began the drills that would keep her sharp and ready for battle. Each thrust and parry was precise. Normally, she exercised every morning to stay limber. The last few days had been an exception and she could feel it in the tightness of her muscles.
When Pelya stopped, Terry cautiously came forward. She had been watching for a while. “Your horses are ready. Honey is eager to go.”
Pelya saw the warhorse stomping energetically. She would have to give her a run to work off some of the extra energy.
“I’ve never seen anyone move like you do.” Terry fidgeted with a horse brush in her hands. “Who are you?”
“I’m no one.” Pelya sheathed the swords and went to Honey. She put her foot in the stirrup and mounted effortlessly. Looking around, Pelya saw that they were alone, so she leaned over and slipped Terry two more silver pieces. “I haven’t told your father about these. If you ever leave, go anywhere but Dralin.”
Pelya retrieved the lead of the packhorse. As she left the stables and inn behind, she realized she had never learned the name of the village.