"Liselle" is book one of the Crazed Trilogy. It's set in the world of Ryallon, a couple of years after the Willden Trilogy and begins with Liselle, a main character in both trilogies. I've included the first two chapters along with a map of the country of Soaarth, the kingdom in which this story takes place.
This contains spoilers for the Willden Trilogy, if you haven't read it yet!!!
Liselle, Chapters 1 and 2
byJohn H. Carroll
Copyright 2013 John H. Carroll
Cover Copyright 2013 John H. Carroll
Cover photography by Tracy Carroll
This book is dedicated to luck. I could use a bit right now, so hopefully this bribe will be successful.
Gurbin was hungry. The scent of food wafting along the early night breeze drew him in. After ten days of eating roots and berries in the forest, he was ready for a meal. Perhaps there would even be a pretty girl for him to play with.
He looked up at the moons of Ryallon, both of which were half-full. Siahray was a beautiful blue and green orb with white and gray puffs moving slowly across its surface. Piohray was the furthest and smaller of the two, a red moon with swirling vapors. The combination of red light mixed with bluish-green gave the forest below the ridge Gurbin stood upon a lavender cast.
He had spent the last three years unable to see the moons while in the depths of a sinister mountain prison reserved for the worst criminals in the Kingdom of Soaarth. It was far from the city of Varsh where he had spent his life. If Gurbin came to close to the nearby highway, he might be caught and returned to that terrible prison.
The campground with the food that enticed him was far enough from the highway though, and he was very hungry. Pleasant wood smoke brought with it the aroma of cooking meat. It tickled his nose, drawing him closer through the trees. Infernal branches with pine needles scraped his bald head as he came close. The knife he had taken off the lifeless body of the prison’s cook during his bold escape was perfect for shaving all the hair off his body. Gurbin hated hair.
Three horses munched on grass a short distance from a campfire that illuminated a small clearing within the dense trees. Three people would be hard to overcome, but if one of the horses was a packhorse, there might only be two people, much easier to handle. Gurbin snuck forward to one of the trees and looked around.
The most beautiful woman Gurbin had ever seen was sitting on a log to the right of the fire, stirring a small pot of boiling vegetables to go with the side of deer cooking on a spit. Her hair was glossy black, cascading down her back. A gold-wire necklace set with emeralds and finely cut garnets rested against the perfect skin of her neck. She wore a long robe swirled with black and grey colors. The grey matched her pearlescent eyes which shone in the firelight.
Best of all, she was alone, just a stunning young woman preparing to eat an entire side of deer by herself. It was perfect. Gurbin would have plenty of food and then he would get to play, although there was something very disturbing about the violet flower pinned in her hair
“Are you hungry?” the woman asked, turning toward him with a genuine smile.
Gurbin pulled his head back and plastered his back against the tree.
“There’s no need to be shy. The flowers told me you were there.”
Gurbin wondered what in the world that meant. He cautiously came around the tree and approached, licking the air in her direction. “Pretty, heh, heh. I like you.”
A deep rumble spread throughout the clearing to the forest beyond. If Gurbin had had any hair, it would have stood on end. “What was that?” he asked in alarm.
“Oh, that was Vevin.” She looked at the log to the right of her. “Vevin, are you hiding again?”
A thin, young man materialized, sitting on the log next to the woman. Gurbin did a double take when he realized it wasn’t a man at all. The one called Vevin had metallic purple hair and his skin was an odd sort of cream color tinged with more purple. The leggings and vest he wore were also purple with gold filigree throughout. His feet were bare, as was his chest underneath the unclasped vest. Most unnerving were the liquid-silver eyes that glowed with an eerie light. A wide grin with sharp teeth and a deep scar running up the left side of his face from chin to temple added to Durbin’s anxiety.
“Say hello, Vevin,” the woman told the purple man.
“Hello, Vevin,” the purple man replied with a toothsome grin. He lightly swayed side to side the way a snake would when ready to strike.
“Now don’t be scary, dearest. This nice man is obviously hungry and we have plenty of food to share.”
“Nice man?” Vevin asked incredulously. “Where in all the world of Ryallon do you get the idea that he’s a nice man?”
“Well . . . Perhaps he doesn’t seem all that nice, but who knows how long he’s been in the woods all by himself.” The woman gave a decisive nod. “I’m certain that he’s been nice at some point in his life and we shouldn’t judge him by his appearance.”
Gurbin took a step back. There was something very, very wrong about the two, no matter how pretty the woman was.
“It’s not just his appearance, dear,” Vevin said. “It’s his smell. The stench of evil is so strong on him I can even taste it.”
Gurbin took more steps back. He reached the tree and moved behind it.
“You know you’re not supposed to be tasting humans, darling,” the woman pointed out sternly. “You can get into a great deal of trouble doing that sort of thing.”
Gurbin began moving backward faster.
“I didn’t actually taste him,” Vevin replied in frustration. “I think he’s going to try to hurt you.”
“Nonsense. He wouldn’t try to hurt me, would you . . . “ There was a moment of silence. “Now where did he go? See, you scared him off!”
Gurbin began to run through the moonlit trees. It struck him as odd that the last thing he heard was Vevin asking, “What do the flowers say about him?”
A few hours later, Gurbin was walking along the ridge of a rocky hill. Large nightflowers had their petals open to the moons. A few puffy clouds cast occasional shadows, but held no threat of rain.
He thought about the purple man named Vevin and the beautiful woman with the flower in her hair. He wanted to go back for her, but couldn’t find the courage to do so.
A rustling sound startled him and he turned to see what it was. The only thing on the ridge was the orange and yellow nightflowers, more than he had ever seen in one place. Gurbin turned back to look at the woods below. It was a fair distance down with lots of rocks jutting out.
Something grabbed his ankle. Looking down in alarm, he saw that he had accidentally caught his foot in a root. A nervous laugh escaped his lips and he turned his face to the moons. A deep breath calmed him as he closed his eyes.
After a moment, Gurbin tried lifting his leg to free it, but the root held on strongly. Another rustling sound came from behind him and he turned to see what it was. The nightflowers were closer, much closer. Panic began to rise and Gurbin pulled on his leg with both hands. He looked down to see the root crawling up his thigh and another one circling around his other ankle.
Then something pushed Gurbin. When he turned, a nightflower was directly in front of his face.
Gurbin screamed in fear and confusion. None of it made sense. Then the nightflower slammed into him, knocking him off the ridge. At the same time, the roots around his ankles let go and he fell over the edge.
The first two times he bounced, it hurt. He tried desperately to grab onto something, but it was futile. Then he didn’t bounce for a moment. When he finally hit the ground again, the speed he had gained in the fall cracked the life out of him.
Vevin stood and threw his arms up in indignation. “Yes, I scared him off! He was going to do bad things to you.” Embers popped in the fire behind him as though agreeing.
“Perhaps you’re right. He did seem very disturbed, didn’t he?” Liselle mused. The man had given her chills with the way he stared at her. “Why are people like that?” She gazed into the trees where the sound of the man running through the woods was fading. “I wonder if I could have healed his mind.”
“The last time you tried to heal a crazy person’s mind, you nearly destroyed yours.” Vevin folded his arms and tapped his foot. “You aren’t going to be able to heal everyone no matter how much you want to. Worse, when you mingle your mind with someone like that, there’s a chance it can harm your mind.” He knelt and took her hands in his. His fingers had small talons where a human’s nails would be. “I know you want to make the world a better place where everyone treats everyone else well, but there are just too many who want to make it a worse place.”
Liselle stared at her own dirty fingernails. “Why do people want to make the world a worse place? It doesn’t make any sense at all.”
Vevin buried his head in her lap. “I don’t know.”
“You’re frustrated with me again, aren’t you?” She played with his dark, metallic-purple hair. It was wiry to the touch, but she liked it.
He looked up at her, his liquid-silver eyes swirling slowly. “I’m not frustrated, dearest. I just don’t know how to answer that question. It’s easier with dragons. White and orange are good, purple and black are evil, except for me. I’m just awesome.”
“Yes you are.” Liselle smiled.
“You humans are different colors, but it doesn’t affect whether or not you’re good or evil. Humans have good and evil wrapped all together. It doesn’t make sense.” Vevin got to his feet and walked over to where they had extra wood for the fire. He tossed a couple of logs on before turning the side of deer.
“Like my cousin Tathan?” Liselle still thought of him frequently. “He’s very good and very evil all wrapped up in one.”
“Exactly!” Vevin took the pot of vegetables off and placed it on a flat rock. He used his bare hand even though the pot was scalding. His dragon skin protected him even in human form. “Tathan helps people who are in danger, but he usually does it by killing everyone who threatens those people.” He poked at the fire with a long stick. “I wonder how he’s doing.”
“As do I. It’s been nearly two years since we left him and Sir Danth in Oimryi.” Liselle rested her elbows on her knees and chin in her hands. “I still worry about him. If he and Princess Anilyia are caught in their affair, they’ll be executed.”
“Tathan’s too slippery to be executed. I miss him though. He’s so much fun to be around.” Vevin retrieved Liselle’s plate from their pack and began putting food on it.
“He is, but we’ve had fun even without him, haven’t we, darling?” Liselle took the plate he handed her.
Vevin ripped a chunk of meat off the deer. “We have! It’s been wonderful. I loved flying around the mountains of the Island of Scinta.” He shredded a chunk of the meat with his sharp teeth.
It was a bit unnerving to watch her mate eat, but Liselle was used to it. “With the exception of flying over the ocean, I enjoyed the people there. They were so welcoming . . . at least until you flew over the port in your natural form and they asked us to leave.”
Vevin blushed, his skin turning dark purple in the firelight. “I still feel bad about that.”
“I know, dearest. I’m not upset. I was bored after a few months anyway.” Liselle nibbled on her food, not very hungry.
“I wish we had been able to go to Dralin. It sounds like such a fascinating city.” Vevin licked his fingers, having already eaten the large portion he had taken. He was skinny in both his forms, but could put away extraordinary amounts of food.
“I’m glad Dralin has protections against dragons entering the city. The pollution in the air around it was alarming. It wouldn’t have been healthy for either of us. Even the water in the ground around it was tainted with magical pollution. The flowers hate it.” Liselle reached out to the flower behind the log. It reached forward to touch her fingers, giving the floral equivalent of a purr.
“The flowers didn’t like the man who just tried to visit, did they?” Vevin asked again as he tore off more of the deer meat.
“No. They told me he was evil. I still want to make him better. Why would he be evil? What happened to make him evil, or is he naturally evil?”
Vevin didn’t answer because he was rending meat off a rib bone he had torn from the deer. He stopped when he noticed her watching him. “Nom, nom.”
Liselle laughed. “Enjoy nomming your dinner, darling. I’m going to meet more of the flowers in the area. I can hear them calling for my attention.” She got up and walked into the trees in the opposite direction that the man had taken.
After a few minutes, the sounds of her mate’s voracious eating were replaced by the melodies of night insects and the gentle breeze rustling through leaves. A porcupine rustled through nearby underbrush, startled by her passing. The forested hills between Pilmata and Tadash in the country of Soaarth were lush. A multitude of plants and flowers blended their scents with the rich odors of damp earth and bark. Flowers that had closed for the night opened to say hello to her as she made her way around stout trees.
She had always been able to understand the flowers. They looked out for her and she for them. While travelling through the Willden Forest with her cousin Tathan, Liselle had learned that she was born of flowers after her mother hand lain with them in a field. Being half-human and half-flower made Liselle a supernatural entity, if an odd one. One person she had met in her travels believed Liselle was an archangel, though it wasn’t clear of what god or goddess.
A glade opened before her. She stopped for a moment while a bear crossed the other side, its black coat glossy in the lavender light of the moons. The flowers had alerted her to it and the fact that it was hungry. They masked her scent with their pleasant perfumes to prevent the bear from catching wind of her.
Liselle looked back in the direction of camp. The bear wouldn’t be a match for Vevin, who could sense when Liselle was in danger. Vevin took excellent care of her and doted on her. She smiled at the fond remembrance of the first day she had met him in the ruins of Aaltdiin. He had danced his way into Liselle’s heart from that day forward.
The bear was gone, so Liselle made her way into the clearing to greet the flowers there. Nightflowers were eager to see her, spreading their enormous petals wide to show off their colors. A cloud covered Piohray’s light, temporarily altering the moonlight to the blue-green of Siahray. Liselle stretched her arms like the flowers stretched their petals, reveling in the life-giving light.
She laughed and dropped down between two of the largest flowers. They covered her against the slight chill of the breeze while she gazed at the clouds and stars.
Liselle relished the freedom of the open road. She was able to meet new people in the cities and new flowers in the countryside.
A brief stab of sorrow pierced her heart as she thought back to the deaths of her parents, the incident that had begun her on her journeys. The memory still ached, though she had come to terms with it. Desert warriors from the Iynath Empire had come into her peaceful valley and murdered her parents. The only reason Liselle was still alive was because her cousin Tathan had come for a visit at that time and fought the warriors off.
She shook aside the thought and got back to her feet. The breeze was becoming stronger and sending chills up her arms, so she headed back to camp after waving goodbye to the flowers. They were sad to see her go.
Firm gusts whistled through branches and shook leaves. The robe made for Liselle by a girl from the race known as Rojuun protected her skin from a chill, but it was becoming threadbare from heavy use and she was grateful for the warmth of the fire upon reaching camp.
Vevin was chucking the last of the deer bones over the trees far away from camp so as not to attract predators. He came over to her and wrapped his arms around her waist while she held her hands near the fire. “Did you meet any new types of flowers?”
“No, but they were all lovely. I believe that there are more nightflowers in these hills than dayflowers.” Liselle leaned back against him, enjoying the feel of his strong chest and arms. “I’m sorry that I try to fix everyone, Vevin.”
“But I love that about you. You make the world a better place. My only problem is that you put yourself in more danger than you can handle sometimes.” His breath was warm as he spoke into her ear. “Everything about you is wonderful. Each footstep you take brings peace and kindness. I’ve seen people stop fighting when you pass by. One time I swear two people fell in love with each other just because you smiled in their direction.”
“I would tell you you’re silly, but there’s some truth to what you say. I’ve seen it too.” Liselle turned in his arms to face him. “I don’t think I’m an archangel, but I don’t know what I am. It’s so confusing.” She rested her head on his shoulder.
Vevin held her head close with one of his hands. “You’re the Child of Flowers. We know that much.”
“But not what it means.” Liselle pushed herself back and took a deep breath. “I’m being moody. I’m sorry, dearest.”
Vevin grinned impishly. “Does that mean it’s a good time for me to go flying?”
Liselle twisted her lips and put her hands on her hips. “You just got back yesterday after flying for a week.”
“Just joking.” He held up his hands in surrender, but the grin was still present. “Are we still planning to go to Aest?”
Liselle picked her plate of food back up and sat on the log to nibble at it some more. “If you don’t mind. It’s said that the royal castle is one of the most beautiful in the world, with pennants flying from majestic spires.” Liselle sighed dreamily. “I love castles. Uncle Laremy used to tell me stories of damsels who lived in towers while shining knights rescued them from dragons.”
Vevin sat next to her. “I don’t like those stories so much. Any knight that tries to rescue you from me will squish out of the creases of his shining armor when I step on him.” A low growl rumbled from his throat and through the trees, sending sleeping animals scurrying for their lives.
“Eww. Don’t be like that.” Liselle thwapped him in the chest with the back of her hand. “They were childhood fairy tales. I love you more than I could ever love any silly knight. Besides, most of them wear black armor because it’s more intimidating.” She rolled her eyes.
“I don’t care what type of armor they wear, it’s not intimidating to me.” Vevin snitched a piece of deer meat off her plate, too fast for her attempt at slapping his hand. “Why are they called fairy tales when most of them aren’t about fairies?” he asked thoughtfully.
“Because humans like to confuse dragons, that’s why.” Liselle stuck her tongue out at him. “Do you mind visiting Aest? I don’t think they’ll have enchantments to keep you out like Dralin does.”
“I don’t mind.” Vevin tried to grab another bite, but Liselle was too fast in moving the plate away. He crossed one leg over the other and looked at the glow of firelight illuminating the trees surrounding their camp. “I like visiting cities. People are fascinating and confusing all at the same time. I’m still not sure how anyone managed to create wards strong enough to keep a dragon out of Dralin. I doubt it could happen anywhere else though.”
“I don’t think so either.” Liselle took a bit of vegetables before giving the plate to Vevin. She just wasn’t hungry. “I think it’s extraordinary that the Kingdom of Soaarth has two capital cities. I hope Aest is more pleasant than Thea, and I definitely hope it’s better than the city of Varsh.” Liselle screwed her face into an expression of distaste.
“Oh yes! Varsh is a terrible city with smelly fish.” Vevin eagerly downed the rest of the deer meat.
Liselle looked south, remembering the rough men of Varsh who worked the docks and the battered women who ducked as though afraid someone was going to beat them. “I wish I could have helped the children. They stared at me with such hopelessness in their eyes.”
“The oppressed and downtrodden.” Vevin nodded sadly. “It’s the sort of city that could use someone like Sir Danth. He would help them even if it meant killing everyone who oppressed them.”
Liselle leaned against Vevin and let him wrap an arm around her shoulders. “I just wish people would stop oppressing other people and downtrodding all over them.”
“I’m not certain that downtrodding is a word, darling.”
“I’m the Child of the Flowers. If I say downtrodding is a word, then it is. You get ‘nomming’ after all.”
“Yes, but I’m a dragon. We get extra words because we’re so awesome.” Vevin kissed the top of her head. “But you’re awesome too, so downtrodding is officially a word now.”
Liselle gave him a kiss. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” Vevin kissed her back.
The kissing turned into more.
I hope you've enjoyed this preview. I'm hoping to have this book out in the next few months.
All my best,
John H. Carroll