The new site is launched! Please update your bookmarks.
From there, you’ll be able to download Book One chapter by chapter in .pdf format. Enjoy!
The new site is launched! Please update your bookmarks.
From there, you’ll be able to download Book One chapter by chapter in .pdf format. Enjoy!
Starting Monday, August 12th, this site will transfer to http://aarongansky.com/
I’m excited about the change. You’ll still have access to all of Book One, this time in .pdf format, so you can take it with you on the go! You’re excited. I can feel it through the computer.
Long story short, tell your friends. Bookmark http://aarongansky.com/ It’ll have everything: my books, advice on writing, podcasts, Hand of Adonai, a way to contact me, fancy web design (thanks, Keiki Hendrix!), even the kitchen sink*!
Tell your friends. Hope to see you there!
* Note: Kitchen sink not included.
I bring you the second portion of the prologue for book two: The Hand of Adonai and the Blood Sword. Enjoy.
* * *
Archduke Pentavus Korodeth, Captain of the King’s Watch, stepped from his boat to the rickety dock nearest the Eastern gate of Sylvonya. The guards greeted him with a fist-to-heart, and Korodeth responded with a fist-to-shoulder. He greeted each by name, asked after their families, assured them they’d done a fine job.
He rarely smiled, but his stern stare gave his words an earnest feel. These men would follow him anywhere, fight for him, die for him. They’d pledged fealty to Ribillius with their mouths, but their hearts belonged to Korodeth, as was the case with most military personnel, save for Jaurru. Of course, with him gone, Korodeth’s job became easier. In time, Jaurru may prove to be a problem, as would Indigo and their caller friend Lakia.
Rather than sailing from Alrujah, Korodeth had considered taking the underground caverns. Though, since Ribillius’ grandfather eliminated the smuggling trade within, few knew of the interconnecting tunnels and rivers beneath the surface. He preferred to keep it that way.
The dock rocked beneath his feet. The water sprayed up on his boots. He walked quickly to the cobbled streets, escorted by two guards wearing Sylvonya’s red and blue mail. Each carried a halberd and walked in perfect step. “How fares the city?” he asked.
“Times are tough, Captain. Viceroy Harrow worries.”
“Seems like we drag a hundred bodies to the ocean every morning, sir.”
Korodeth shook his head. “We’re working to find a solution.”
The man smiled. “No one loves the people like you, Captain. If anyone finds the answer, it will be you.”
Before them, the castle loomed large on the horizon. The steep inclined streets led directly to the castle gates, where the gardens famous for hibiscus and oleander lay in ruins. The plants, long dead, had been burned. Blood smeared the stone walls of the castle.
“What happened here?”
“Difference of opinions,” the guard said.
The guard nodded. “Proclaimed Adonai as god and demanded Viceroy Harrow eliminate Tiamat’s church.”
“You killed them?”
“They wouldn’t listen otherwise,” the guard said.
Korodeth shook his head. “Clean up this mess. It’s a disgrace.”
“Aye, Captain.” The guard turned back and called after his mates.
Korodeth stormed into the castle and marched directly to the throne room. Viceroy Harrow, a robust man draped in a red robe with blue stitching, stood. He smoothed his white beard and stared at Korodeth. “You’re early.”
Korodeth stormed up the dais and grabbed the man by the front of the robe. “You slaughtered the monks?”
Harrow grabbed Korodeth’s wrists. “How dare you.”
Korodeth broke Harrow’s grip and boxed his ears. The Viceroy collapsed into his chair and held his head.
Guards rushed from the doorway, but Korodeth waved them away. “Stay where you are. This is a matter of kingdom security.” He knelt in front of Harrow and shouted. “Perhaps you can hear my voice better now that I’ve smacked the stupid out.”
Harrow stood and walked behind the throne. “Leave me be.”
Korodeth followed him. “Do not walk away from me, Harrow. My word put you on this throne and it can take you off. Ribillius never liked you, and I’m beginning to see why.”
Harrow tilted his head to either side, opened and closed his mouth. “I’ve done everything you asked.”
“I never ordered the murder of monks!”
“They demanded I destroy Tiamat’s church!”
“Did they attack you?”
Harrow twisted the gold rings on his fingers. “No.”
“You will leave the monks alone.”
“Hypocrite!” Harrow exclaimed. “You have me build a church and not protect it?”
“Encourage your people, I said. How do you take that to mean slaughtering a peaceful people?”
“Did you not order the burning of the Cerulean Monastery? What’s right for you isn’t right for me, I suppose?”
“No monks were killed,” Korodeth said. “I saw to that. I turned their attention. A distraction technique is not murder.”
“The conflict is unavoidable,” Harrow said, straightening his back and finding steel in his voice. “Was it not you who taught me the rules of warfare? He who strikes first, strikes last?”
“We are not at war.”
“Said the kingdom that fell.”
Korodeth grabbed Harrows robe and threw him to the ground. Lightning flashed outside and a dagger appeared in Korodeth’s hand. He slashed at Harrow, stopping the blade inches from the Viceroy’s throat.
The guards rushed the dais, but with a wave of his hand, Korodeth knocked them all back to the wall. His eyes glowed red and the blade of the dagger heated. He touched the blistering steel to Harrow’s neck.
The man howled, clutched at the floor.
Korodeth removed the blade. He waved his hand and it vanished. “Hear me well, Harrow, for if your ears fail you again, I’ll sit someone new upon your throne. You are to attend the church of Tiamat. Heed the words of his priests. Seek counsel with his monks. But never again strike at Adonai’s chosen. If you do, I’ll not stay his hand from you.” He helped Harrow to his feet. “Pick a fight with a god, and the god may strike back. Never strike unless you’re ready for the counter-attack.”
“We are ready.”
“You’re worthless,” Korodeth said. He grabbed Harrow’s hand and pulled a gold ring off. “We’re ready when I say we are. You are a narrow-sighted, dim-earred old man.”
Harrow hung his head like scolded child.
“The Monks of the Cerulean Order will hear of this. I must prepare Alrujah for the transition.”
“May I ask when to expect you on the throne?”
Korodeth turned and smacked Harrow’s face. “You have a filthy, treacherous mouth. Until you learn discernment, your lips are sealed.”
Harrow’s lips melted together like wax. He grabbed at his mouth, moaned and cried, but no words came.
Korodeth marched toward the door, stepped over the toppled guards. “You’re fortunate I don’t throw you in the dungeon for treason.” He walked back to his boat, set the sail, and pushed off from the dock.
When Sylvonya’s towers diminished to sticks, Varus removed his hood. “Am I to assume the plan has changed?”
“Harrow is a dim-witted fool,” Korodeth said. “The plan remains firm, but his loose lips jeopardized what I wanted to accomplish. The guards needed a show of power.”
“A fine show,” Varus said.
“I want eyes on the monks. They’re in the caves near the Cerulean Woods.”
“They can sense us,” Varus said.
“They cannot sense you, Varus. Do well, and you will soon find yourself on Sylvonya’s throne.”
With Book One done, we turn our attention to Book Two. I’m still contemplating how to handle the release of this book in conjunction with Book One, and I’ll be sure to keep you posted on my decisions here and on the Facebook page (if you haven’t liked it already, please do so at http://www.facebook.com/handofadonai
In the meantime, enjoy the first half to the prologue of Book Two in my Hand of Adonai series, currently titled The Hand of Adonai and the Blood Sword.
“For a time, Shedoah will allow himself to be imprisoned by Adonai. He will live under the sea. But Adonai’s power will not hold Shedoah. Shedoah will rise again, overcome Adonai and his reign of disease and war, and restore peace to Alrujah for a thousand years.”
– the Shedoahan Prophecies
Maewen folded her wings and plummeted toward Dragon’s Tooth Island. There, among the mountainous waterfalls and the dense green foliage, she alighted among the highest pinnacle. Her Bismuth circlet glimmered in the waning light of the lesser sun. She carried no weapons. She had no need here, not since Solous ascended the throne.
Rich with the power of Adonai, the island remained hidden from Alrujans for centuries. She’d not heard it mentioned among the elves since Solous ascended the throne.
Far overhead, Pacha el Nai circled the island. Two dark spots buzzed like flies near his distant form. As he descended, the spots took the shape of griffins. She never understood Pacha’s fascination with the creatures. He did all he could to keep them hidden from the people of Alrujah, convinced they’d “subjugate the noble animals and breed them for war.”
Already, they were bred for war. Adonai saw to that. With paws the size of stone tablets and twice as heavy, they could swipe a man’s head from his shoulders without effort. Their beaks with their gleaming razor edges could snap tendon from bone.
The two he brought landed beside him. One tawny, the other black, both sat like well trained dogs. He touched each of their heads and smiled. “Maewen, it is good to see you.”
“And you in kind,” she responded. “May Adonai bless your steps.”
“An odd greeting for one such as yourself,” Pacha said.
Maewen folded her arms. “How do you mean?”
The tawny griffin lay on the cold black rock precipice. “Adonai is concerned. The hearts of the elves turn toward you. They worship you as a goddess.”
“I do not encourage their worship.”
“Do you reject it?”
“How can I, when Adonai forbids me to enter in physical form?”
Unlike Maewen, Pacha el Nai came fully armed. His twin swords hung at his hips, humming with power. “And yet you’ve not obeyed this commandment.”
Maewen’s heart chilled. Of course Adonai knew, but had He told Pacha? He must have. And if Pacha knew, the others would, too. How long had they known?
Pacha’s smile thinned. The black griffin screeched, flapped its wings. “Your actions have endangered the lives of all who live in Alrujah.”
“I know,” she said. “I have repented. Isn’t that enough?”
“Children,” Pacha said. “Twins. They live among the elves as gods, and you ask if repentance is enough? They are abominations, Maewen, and must be dealt with.”
“No,” she said, her hands grabbing his shoulders.
The black griffin snapped at her hands, but Pacha settled it with a palm on its head.
Maewen’s throat tightened. “Please, spare them. The mistake was mine. I will bear the burden of punishment.”
“They’ve taken wives,” Pacha said. The tawny griffin shrilled at Maewen. “Until now, Adonai has been merciful. He’s allowed them to live. But they must not bear children. To do so would further upset the balance of peace in Alrujah. Their children would lay waste human and elf and dwarf alike.”
Maewen’s eyes widened. Her circlet weighed heavy on her brow. How had she not known they’d taken wives? She’d been away from them too long. Without her guidance, their hearts would turn from her to the elves. “Must they pay with their lives for my mistake?”
Pacha took her wrists gently. “The decision is not yours. Adonai must act against such abominations.”
“Please. They are my sons. They’ve done nothing to harm the people of Alrujah.”
Both griffins screeched at her, and she stepped back. She steeled herself, moved forward toward Pacha. “Don’t do this, Pacha. We’ve been friends for centuries. We’ve fought together, served Adonai together. Do not let my single mistake end our friendship.”
Pacha stretched his wings. “Adonai will relent and allow them their lives. But your sin must not jeopardize Alrujah. You know what you must do.”
She nodded. “I must go to my people and denounce their worship. I must bring my sons here, to Dragon’s Tooth Island, away from Alrujah and Harael.”
Pacha rested his hands on the hilts of his swords. “You must slay their wives.”
She lowered her head.
“I do not envy you your task.”
Maewen’s knees weakened. She rested her head on his chest. Once, she’d loved Pacha, though love was forbidden among angels, and so she turned to the elves. What if Pacha returned her love? Would they have avoided this mess? Or would they be in a different chaos?
He wrapped his massive arms around her, enfolding her smaller body, her fragile wings. “Be quick. If they’re not dead by tomorrow’s sunsdown, and your sons here on Dragon’s Tooth Island, I will deal with them myself.” He released her, stretched his wings and launched himself from the cliff. The griffin’s followed close after, screaming at the waterfalls, their shrill voices echoing over the streams and the ocean.
Maewen wasted no time. She lifted herself in the air and flew through the night to Harael. The wind pressed her cheeks hard. Her eyes watered. She tried not to think about the task before her.
She landed lightly on the smallest, southernmost island. She ducked inside a dank cave. She retrieved her spear from the entrance. Her sons, now twenty-four years old, lay near the back of the cave, next to two young, beautiful elves. They’d decorated the cave, hung Torap’s paintings, built shelves for Uhesdey’s books, constructed beds from bamboo and straw mattresses. They’d lit the walls with enchanted ever-burning, smokeless torches.
The blonde elf, a golden circlet on her head, slept with her head on Torap’s chest. Her left ear wore the bismuth ankh, Torap’s chosen symbol. Torap, eldest of her twin sons, wore an identical earring in his left ear. His chest rose and fell slowly, and his new bride’s hand draped over his stomach.
The black haired elf lay beside Uhesdey, her leg draped over his, a golden anklet reflecting the sparkling water near the back of the cave. In her left ear, she wore the bismuth four-pointed star, Uhesdey’s chosen symbol. He wore an identical ring in his left ear.
Her sons had taken brides, had started families, and hadn’t told her. The betrayal stung, but she understood why. She’d forbade them to interact with the elves, mandated they stay in this cave. But they were young. They’d not obey her forever. And why shouldn’t they experience love? Why shouldn’t they raise their families?
Within the bellies of these women grew the destruction of the world.
Maewen readied her spear, steeled her nerves. She whispered over her sons and their wives, deepened their sleep, then lifted the elf women, one in each hand. Secure in a bottomless slumber, the women’s bodies flopped like boneless fish. Their necks lolled to the sides, their chests rising and falling in a slow meter.
Outside the cave, she leapt, flapped her wings, and flew to the beach beyond the jungle trees. She lay the women in the sand, the blonde beside the dark-haired wife. They were so small, so young, so beautiful. No wonder her sons had fallen in love with them. Next to her giant sons, they’d looked like dolls. Her heart wept to do what she knew she must. “I’m sorry,” she whispered. She lifted her spear and plunged it through the heart of Uhesdey’s beloved.
The woman’s body twitched. Her chest swelled, her hands grasped the massive shaft, her eyes snapped open, then rolled back into her head. Air seeped from her, escaped like a confused sigh.
The blonde stirred, rolled in the sand.
Wiping the tears from her eyes, Maewen stepped on the dark-haired elf’s chest and pulled the spear from her chest. She rolled the blonde on her back.
The elf awoke. “What?” she asked.
Maewen spoke the words of sleep over her again, and she closed her eyes.
With a heavy breath, Maewen lifted her spear and stabbed the blonde in the heart. She dropped to her knees beside the bloodied women, wept over their wounds. “I’m sorry,” she said again. “I had no other choice.”
Maewen’s head snapped up. How had Uhesdey resisted her sleep enchantment? And how had he made it to the beach so quickly? “My son,” she said. She dropped her spear, stood, and walked to him.
“What have you done?” he asked.
“I had to,” she said. “For the good of Alrujah.”
He didn’t understand, couldn’t. His ears wouldn’t hear her words. His eyes would see only the bloodied corpse of his new bride, and anger would flash hot inside him.
She must convince him to fly to Dragon’s Tooth Island. “Come,” she said. “I know where you will be safe.”
“Neldessa?” he whispered, moving to his wife. He knelt beside her, pressed his hands on her wounds. “Neldessa!”
Torap, near seven feet tall, raced through the opening of the cave, his wife’s name on his lips. “Baradeth!” He knelt beside her, whispered over her wounds. Immediately, the skin began to seal; the blood slowed.
But the wound was too much for even Torap to heal. Maewen saw to that. “My sons,” she said again, retrieving her spear. “We must move from here. We’ll be safe on Dragon’s Tooth Island.”
Uhesdey stood, fisted his hands. “Safe?” he asked. “From what, exactly? From whom? These elves? They’re nothing. They fear us, worship us as gods!”
“From Adonai,” Maewen said, her voice faltering.
“You and your Adonai,” Uhesdey said. “I’ve never seen him. What has he done for us? You speak as if he’s real. If so, let him show himself. Let him protect you from me.”
Maewen smacked Uhesdey’s face. “How dare you blaspheme Adonai!”
Uhesdey grabbed her wrist and pulled back hard. The bones in her hand snapped. She twisted, found her footing, and steadied herself. Of course he would fight back. She should have expected him to. “Please, Uhesdey. I know you don’t understand, but your life is in danger if you stay here.”
“You killed my wife!” Uhesdey shouted.
Torap stood, his head bowed, eyes brimming with tears. “She’s dead. I couldn’t heal her.”
Uhesdey sneered. “Your power is of life and light. It cannot touch the dead or the dark.”
“But yours can, brother,” Torap said, his voice pleading. He took his brother by the shoulders. “You can bring them back to us.”
“No!” Maewen said. “Such a thing is evil. The dead must stay dead.”
“You’ve been away for too long, mother,” Uhesdey said as he knelt next to his slaughtered bride. “Our powers have grown. The waters of Harael run deep. Torap’s hand guides them, and mine freezes them. His hand establishes life. My hand brings death. His will brings light, and mine darkness. We are the balance of Harael. There is no place for you.”
He took the hands of the brides, and the corpses stood.
Maewen’s chest tightened. Only Moloch could raise the dead. How had Uhesdey discovered this power? “What you do is evil,” she said.
“And slaughtering our wives wasn’t?” Torap shouted. He rushed his mother and struck at her.
Maewen moved, but Uhesdey had joined the fight. He wrested her spear from her hand before she realized where he was. He stabbed at her, and Maewen struggled to move in time. The flaming emerald tip of the spear seared her skin.
She spread her wings and leapt, but each of her sons grabbed an ankle and threw her to the ground. She spun, hoping to break her fall, but they’d pulled too hard. She landed hard on her back, snapping her wings. She arched her back in agony. Sand snaked in between her armor and skin. It pulled her under.
The sands carried her toward the sea, and the sea reached up for her.
Uhesdey punched the ground hard, and hundreds of dead elves crawled up with the tide. Their flesh, loose and bloated on their bones, shone blue in the moonlight. Tendons clung limply to bone. Reddish muscle stretched beneath torn skin. Teeth clacked and snapped in rigid jaws.
Maewen flexed her fingers, and a million bursts of light exploded around her sons and their wives. The distraction gave her time to right herself and bend light to create thirty copies of herself. They moved with her, action for action, breath for breath.
Pain seared her wings. Escape was impossible. If she hoped to survive, she’d have to fight.
She thought of the War of the Suns, of her battle against the elves, but this time, she had no army of humans behind her, no troops to command. Dead elf hands grasped at her. She needed a weapon, needed her spear. She pooled light into a white hot disk, and severed the elves’ hands. She turned the light toward her sons, burning a path to them.
Uhesdey and Torap moved in opposite directions. She followed Uhesdey. “Stop this madness,” she said. “I only wanted to help you, to protect you.”
He closed his right fist, and the sky darkened.
He stabbed at her, catching her side, slashing her armor.
She moved on instinct, wrapping her arm around the spear and kicking Uhesdey in the chest. Not hard enough to crush his sternum, but hard enough to separate him from the spear.
He stumbled back, and she twisted the spear into her good hand.
Torap grabbed her and threw her against a tree on the edge of the beach. Pain seared her wings, her back. She leveled the spear at his chest. “Please, Torap, not you.”
He leapt at her.
She blinked the little remaining light, vanished from in front of him, appeared behind, and kicked him in the small of the back. She had to stop them without killing them.
How had it come to this?
The hands of the dead grabbed her broken wings and pulled her back. They fell on her, hundreds of them. She pooled light into disks and slashed at them but there were too many. They scratched her face, pulled her limbs, until she couldn’t move. Uhesdey’s foot smashed down on her neck.
Tears seared her eyes.
Torap handed the spear to Uhesdey.
Uhesdey raised the spear. “An eye for an eye,” he said.
Desperate with fear, Maewen burned light. She concentrated it in two spots, Uhesdey’s right eye, and Torap’s left. She burned hard, and the light exploded.
Her sons growled, and the elf corpses fell. Neldessa and Baradeth, still bloodied and lumbering, crumpled in the sand.
Maewen stood quickly and stumbled toward the sea, desperate to get away.
Torap, one hand over his bloodied eye, snatched his mother’s wings. With a savage shout, he threw her on the sand.
Pain stabbed her wings, and all breath left her chest.
Torap knelt on her chest. With one hand, he covered the bloody socket of his missing eye. The other clutched her neck.
Uhesdey kicked her spear from her hand. “Kill her,” he said.
Torap squeezed, the pupil of his remaining eye shrinking to the size of a peppercorn.
Maewen struggled to speak, to confess her love for her sons, but Torap’s grip was too strong. She pulled at his thumbs, desperate for air, to explain herself. Her words dribbled out as a gurgle.
Uhesdey kicked her hand away from Torap’s. He stepped on her wrist, plunged her spear into her palm.
Her back arched with pain.
“Why?” Torap said.
His eye narrowed. His blood and tears dripped down her cheeks. How long could she survive without air? She shut out the pain in her hand, her wings, her neck. She prayed Pacha el Nai would arrive with his griffins, pull her from death’s door.
“Do it now,” Uhesdey said. “Or I will.” He stepped forward. His black, unnatural shadow poured over her.
Torap lowered his left hand.
Maewen writhed, thrashed to free herself from his grasp.
He put his bloodied hand on her face. His blood was warm, his palm hot.
Did he feel her heartbeat beneath his knee, the pulse in her neck? Did he see the panic in her eyes? The terror? The love?
His palm heated until it seared her skin.
Still, she could not scream.
A white hot light erupted from Torap’s fingers and palm.
Here is the second half of the prologue. While not as long as the first, I hope you’ll find it enlightening and thought provoking. Your comments are welcomed.
* * *
Archduke Penatvus Korodeth, Captain of the Watch, knelt on the white marble floor of the throne room of Alrujah. Before him, King Ribillius sat in the golden throne—a gratuitous expense for the kingdom when the people of Alrujah starved in the streets. Far be it from Korodeth to mention this to his king. Ribillius would rebuff his suggestion as an offense to Adonai. The throne, the monarch was fond of saying, had been established by Adonai himself.
Ribillius stood and waved his guards away. The marble doors closed after them, and the king sat on the steps of the dais. He motioned for Korodeth to sit beside him. “You don’t bring good news anymore,” he said.
“There is little good to report,” Korodeth said carefully.
“I find it hard to believe that in a kingdom the size of Alrujah, your spies can’t find anything positive to report.”
“Forgive me, my lord. I have entrusted my soldiers with finding potential threats to the wellbeing of your throne.”
“There are always threats to my throne,” he said.
“Never as much as now, my lord.”
Ribillius crossed his arms over his heavy belly and sighed. “What news, then, Captain?”
“Orensdale has given themselves to the worship of Legion. Sylvonya proclaims themselves for Tiamat. Both cities have ceased trade with Alrujah, Varuth, Harland, Weileighn, and Dalova.”
“And our people starve,” Ribillius said, the heavy gold crown slipping down his forehead.
“Droughtworm has made its way into our walls as well, my lord. Each morning, my soldiers drag the dead to the sea. There are more each sunsrise.”
Ribillius stood, paced the throne room, ran his hands over the smooth marble columns. “Do you remember when we were children, Penatvus? The most we worried about was whether or not we’d be caught stealing pies from the kitchen. Now, there aren’t enough pies to feed our people.”
Korodeth stood, clasped his hands behind his back. “There is a way to heal the land,” he said tentatively.
Ribillius shook his head. “Do not dishonor this throne room with your talk of Shedoah again. He is the reason we’re in this mess. It is his touch that poisons the land, that breeds distrust among our people, that fuels the diseases that cripple our cities.”
“You misunderstand, my lord. It is his hand that can heal us. I understand your devotion to Adonai, but your faith is misplaced. The prophecies say—”
Ribillius spun quickly. “Prophecies? You mean lies. Shedoah is the deceiver of old. You’ve read the Book of the Ancients. You’ve read the Book of Things to Come. You understand what true prophecy is, and yet you cling to half-truths and lies? What of our fathers and their fathers? As long as men have sat the throne of Alrujah, we have dedicated our kingdom to Adonai. His power established our throne, and the suffering we face will not cause us to turn our backs on Him now.”
“Our fathers were deceived. Their faith was strong, but misplaced. As is yours, my lord.”
Ribillius’ face flushed red. “If you were any other man, I would kill you where you stand. We’ve been friends since birth, but that alone will not keep my anger from you. Adonai’s name will not be defamed.”
“Then send me away, my lord. I will not turn from my faith, and you will not turn from yours.”
“King Solous established your line to the throne. I cannot send you away. Even if I could, I would not. You are as close as a brother to me, Penatvus. You are a loyal and trusted friend, misguided as you are.”
Korodeth’s heart fisted. What could he say to convince his friend of the truth of Shedoah? He’d tried countless times, and each time, was rebuffed. “How do you explain the suffering? If Shedoah is chained in the deeps, if his power is sealed with seven seals, as you say, how may he touch the land? How may his influence or corruption conjure droughtworm, cause cities to renounce Adonai?”
Ribillius righted the crown on his head. “The seals must be weakening. The Book of Sealed Magic must have been found. Rumors of the Mage Lord must be true.”
“They are rumors only, my lord. I’ve seen no evidence of a Mage Lord at work.”
“You’ve told me the signs with your mouth. The droughtworm, the poverty, the distrust, the fall of faith. What more evidence do you need? We must find him, must restore the seals. Have your soldiers keep a close eye on Orensdale and Sylvonya. No—they’re faith has already fallen. He’ll turn to cities closer to Alrujah, will try to garner strength closer to the seat of our faith. Watch Dalova. Viceroy Gerald is a good man. We cannot afford to be without him.”
“My lord,” Korodeth said. He’d practiced deference, and kept accusation far from his voice. “These commands have the feel of desperation, not of logic.”
“How would you proceed were you in my place, Penatvus? Continue to let our people fall to starvation and plague? Wait until your precious Shedoah breaks his seals and turns us all to slaves, turns us all to corpses?
“No, my lord. As always, you speak with wisdom.”
Ribillius nodded. “I’m sorry, my friend. I didn’t mean to snap.”
“No apologies necessary, my lord.”
The king returned to the dais steps and sat. “I have court in an hour. Leave me, my friend. Bring me news as it comes. And please, try to find something positive to report.”
“As you will, so it will be done.” Korodeth exited through the back door, navigated his way through the dank stone hallways to his office overlooking the city square. The smell of death soured the scent of lilacs and lavender. He sat at his desk, pulled an ancient scrap of parchment from within. Whispering over it, the paper shriveled with age.
Though his door never opened, Korodeth detected a presence within his office. A moment of concentration identified the man as Verus Berand, brother of the traitor Trieli. As far as his Chameleon Soldiers went, Verus was one of the best. He’d proved his dedication and loyalty, not only to Alrujah, but to Shedoah himself. “You have news from Yeval Forest?”
The man removed his hood, exposing his face. The rest of him was armored in enchanted mirror-mail, making him invisible to the eyes, but not to Korodeth’s keen perception. “We made it as far as Orensdale.”
Korodeth did not turn his attention from the well of ink, over which he cast a simple enchantment. “What news?”
“They’ve burned the Yeval monastery and erected a church of Legion.”
“Good,” Korodeth said. The Shedoahan Prophecies continued to be filled. Before long, Shedoah would discontinue his willful submission to the false deity Adonai. He would rise and crush Adonai and again restore order and peace and prosperity to Alrujah.
But that could not be done as long as Ribillius sat the throne. “News of Varuth?”
“Firmly devoted to Alrujah and Adonai.”
The time to act drew near. Korodeth scrawled on the parchment: “He who controls the daughter controls the king.” He rolled the parchment, tied it carefully with black twine, and whispered a last enchantment over it. Only Ribillius would be able to read these words. A simple trick of twisting spells, but it would speak to his ability as a mage—something even Ribillius didn’t know about. He handed the parchment to Varus. “Leave this where the king will find it. Do not be detected.”
Varus replaced his hood. “As you will, so it will be done.”
Great news. Based on the response to the polls I put up a couple weeks ago, I’ve written a prologue. I’ve had a few faithful readers take a pass at it to help me put a little polish on the rough edges. I think you’ll like what we came up with. Thanks to Steve McLain, Maggie McLain, Becky Gansky, Lori Roeleveld, and Steve Finnegan for the careful reads!
Better news: There are two scenes in this Prologue. Tune in next week for the second half.
Thanks again for taking this journey with me. You can continue to help me out by using #hoaseries and linking to it whenever you feel inclined to tweet. Hope to get trending.
Without further delay, scene one of the Prologue of The Hand of Adonai and the Book of Things to Come.
* * *
“Because of their wickedness, Adonai deposed the elves from the throne of Alrujah and again established humans as rulers of the land. He appointed King Solous to bear the weight of the crown, and through his bloodline shall Alrujah find salvation.” –The Book of the Ancients
King Solous set every pair of free hands in Alrujah scrubbing the blood from the streets. His general, Galdarin Korodeth, already had his troops remove the bodies of the men and the elves. Entire families, moving in from outlying areas, spent hours on hands and knees with buckets of soapy water and stiff-bristled cleaning brushes. The cobblestone streets would be stained red for years to come.
King Solous walked among the people, touching shoulders, whispering words of encouragement and thanks. Often, he’d find masses of children huddled together as they scrubbed, their parents looking on from down the way.
His heart broke. The children should be playing, should not have to see such grotesquerie. He knelt beside a group of kids, took a brush from their bucket, and scrubbed the streets alongside them. Their conversation lulled, so he told jokes to lighten the mood. Uneasy laughter was better than no laughter at all. They’d lost enough of their childhood to the War of the Suns. Now, in victory, was the time to be jovial and lighthearted. This is why they fought in the first place—for freedom from the oppressive hands of the elves, for the right to rule themselves, for the right to enjoy life.
He’d earned the respect of the people in battle, now he sought to earn their respect in peace.
Behind him, the clang of armor brought Solous to his feet fast. But the soldiers had not engaged an enemy. Instead, they’d snapped to attention at the approach of General Korodeth.
Solous smiled. “Old friend. Have you come to help clean?”
“I wish I might, but matters of state demand our attention. The angels have again assembled in the throne room.”
Solous touched the shoulders of the children nearest him. “Your work will be rewarded in the prosperity of Alrujah.” As they walked toward the castle, Solous put his arm around Korodeth. “Did you ever imagine we’d be here? We used to dream of great battles, of commanding armies, but those were the dreams of oppressed children, born into the hand of slavery.”
“We were fishermen,” Korodeth said with a grim smile. “I’d hoped only to captain a boat.”
“How old were we then?”
“Fourteen,” Korodeth said.
“And now, the entire kingdom looks to us. Angels heed our call and follow our commands.”
“Adonai has called us, old friend,” Korodeth said. “He promised us the keys to the kingdom.”
“I know, but I didn’t anticipate this. Children scrubbing blood from the streets? The blood of elves and humans and dwarves will stain our streets for generations.”
“There are places where old blood does not run, does not stain,” Korodeth said. He nodded to the silver-clad guards posted at the gates to the castle gardens. They snapped to attention, straightening their backs and pressing fists to hearts. Korodeth nodded, and the men relaxed.
Within the castle garden, no blood stained the leaves of the trees, the grassy knolls, the Crocuses and Callas, or the Violets and Vincasor. Solous had taken great care to ensure no blood be shed within the castle walls. He could do little about the elven soldiers outside the walls, but Pacha el Nai, angel of Adonai, had personally walked Solous to the throne of Alrujah and negotiated the transfer of the throne from elves to men. That done, they turned their attention to rebuilding.
“You’ve posted sentries?” Solous asked.
“At each entrance, both secret and public. Our most trusted soldiers guard your quarters and the throne room.”
“Your talents stretch far beyond the battlefield, Galdarin.”
“Thank you, my lord.”
Solous stopped him, just shy of the throne room doors. He lowered his voice to keep it from echoing down the stone halls. “Without you, we could not have won, even with the seven angels.”
“Thank you, Solous. But Adonai’s calling rests on your shoulders. Even without me, He would have enabled your victory.”
Solous clasped the man’s shoulder. “He sent you to me. Even before we were soldiers, even before we commanded armies. We fished beside each other. The miracle he’s worked in my life is only matched by those He’s worked in yours.”
Korodeth smiled. “Come now. You must take the throne and act the king.”
Solous nodded, then opened the doors to the white marble throne room. He passed the massive columns supporting the roof to the front where seven massive beings stood before him. He and Korodeth fell to their knees, pressed their foreheads to the marble floor. “You honor us with your presence, servants of Adonai.”
Pacha el Nai, a massive angel three and a half spans tall with white wings stretching near to fifteen spans, led six other angels, all equally as colossal. Still wearing his burnished steel armor from the final battle the day before, he slipped his helmet off and tucked it under his arm. Two swords hung from his hip, one beside each leg. Even sheathed, they hummed with power. “Rise,” Pacha el Nai said in the voice of two men. “Adonai alone is worthy of your honor.”
Solous and Korodeth stood, ascended the dais to the golden, purple upholstered throne. Solous sat, but Korodeth stood beside him. “You honor me by heeding my petition for an audience,” Solous said.
Behind Pacha el Nai, Belphegor stepped forward. His head sprouted two horns a hand’s length each. Sheathed in silver and gold, his legs bent at awkward angles. Unlike Pacha’s white wings, his sprouted tawny feathers tipped with gold. While Pacha looked human, Belphegor had a faunish look. “Adonai wishes us to speak with you. But first, speak what you will. Why did you summon us?”
Solous gestured toward his old friend standing beside him. “Before your assembly, I wish to honor Galdarin Korodeth. Under the watchful eye of Adonai’s servants, and with his blessing, I bestow upon him the title of Archduke. His honor exceeds that of all other men. Indeed if I did not wear the crown, he would. Let it be known, among those esteemed angels assembled today, and before the presence of almighty Adonai, that if ever my bloodline were severed, Korodeth, being chosen among men by Adonai as being noble and true, shall ascend the throne.”
Korodeth immediately knelt, a visage of humility and honor. He spoke with a reverence and formality worthy of a loyal subject. “May it never be, my King. Adonai preserve you and your line. May the calling of the line of Korodeth to be to stand beside that of Solous from now until eternity.”
Pacha el Nai said, “Adonai has heard your decision, and honors your wish. May it be as you say.”
Korodeth stood, his head still inclined to Solous. “I am unworthy of this honor, my lord.”
“If you are unworthy, Korodeth, none in Alrujah will ever be.” Solous turned to the angels, put a fist over his heart, and inclined his head. “Esteemed servants of Adonai. Give us the words of Adonai.”
Pacha el Nai spoke again. “Adoani blesses you, Solous, King of Men, and you as well, honored Archduke Korodeth, who leads both men and angels into battle.”
“Adonai has been faithful. He has again returned the throne of Alrujah to men. Rule under his name, establish a kingdom marked by peace and prosperity,” Tiamat said. While not as tall as the other angels, he had the largest wingspan by far. His blue and gold feathered wings glimmered as if scaled. He wore no armor on his chest or back, but both arms were sleeved in a scaled blue metal and with embedded rubies. His eyes burned cobalt, and lightning danced from feather to feather. He commanded weather, used strong spells to counter those used by the elves. Seldom did a blade come close enough to strike him.
Abaddon’s obsidian armor matched his black wings. Broad in shoulder and chest, he wielded a two-handed sword with awesome ferocity, and cowed the armies of the elves. He spoke with a buzz and a rattle. “Good king, Adonai has entrusted our service to your wisdom.”
King Solous motioned to the guards posted near the entrance. “Bring stools for our guests to sit. This may take some time.”
The guards vanished through the spotless white marble doors. Solous appreciated his decision to keep bloodshed from within the castle walls. His was a heart committed to peace, though the same could not be said for all the angels assembled before him.
Legion wore full plate armor fashioned entirely from bronze. His white wings reflected its light and glowed gold. In one hand, he wielded an enormous spiked mace It’d take five men to heft its weight. His armor and bronze shield dissipated what magic the elves used against him, though few could stand before his might, and the angel reveled in his strength, relished his charge to overthrow the armies of the elves. He was a being created for battle and war.
Solous cleared his throat. “Your services?”
“The corruption of the elves began with Shedoah’s hand. Adonai has thrown him beneath the deep of the Alrujan Sea,” Moloch said. He also had black wings. His cloak shimmered like onyx but flowed like fabric stitched with lightning. Thin in body and limb, he wielded the very power of life. To him alone, Adonai entrusted this awesome power. Solous’ troops had taken to calling him the Angel of Death, a term accompanied by fear on both sides of the war. He spoke little, but his presence alone unnerved monarchs and warriors alike.
Maewen, the only woman of the group, let her long golden hair spill over a circlet of bismuth. On her chest, she wore golden mail, and her legs were sheathed in scales of jasper. Emerald tipped both ends of her barbed spear. While smaller than the other angels, her battle prowess made her one of the most feared of the seven. She spoke with the voice of a harp, and her lips shone red. “Seven seals bar his return,” she said.
The guards returned with the stools. Tiamat furled his wings and sat on the ornate red-upholstered stool. Back straight, his voice carried the weight and force of a tornado. “Our power has been recorded in the book.”
“The Book of Magic,” Galdarin Korodeth said. “You penned it?”
“Aye,” Maewen said, her voice a crackling fire. “Indeed, the very ink is imbued with our powers.”
General Korodeth folded his arms. “The book must be sealed, lest man or elf or dwarf find it and usurp the power it holds. Power like that would rend the world.”
Of course. The wisdom of Korodeth became plain again. Mankind cannot be trusted with such power. Only Solous had the power to seal the book and the magic contained within it. He stood, moved to a glass case on which the tome was displayed. He whispered a few words over it, and the glass vanished. He took the book, felt the power surging through him. For a minute, he considered holding it, keeping it for himself. A book like this would virtually ensure immortality. Imagine what he could achieve if he reigned for centuries? What good might he accomplish?
But if he ever lost it? Man was not meant to live for hundreds of years. Forgive my selfishness, my lust for power, Adonai, he thought. He pressed his hand to the leather cover, tapped into the power entrusted to him by almighty Adonai, and bound the magic in enchantments stronger than Alrujah had ever seen. “There is no power within Alrujah that may shatter these bonds.”
Moloch spoke, his voice a dusty buzz. “The elves practice strange magic, as do humans and dwarves. Today there may be no power to break your bonds, but the power of the people grow. The book will not be safe here.”
“It must be hidden,” Abaddon said.
“Indeed,” Solous said. Turning to Korodeth, he said, “You must hide the book. Tell no one of its location, even me. The secret must die with you.”
Korodeth whispered in deference. “Your graciousness, a matter so important cannot be trusted to hands other than your own. I urge you, good king, hide the book yourself. Indeed, is anyone else in the kingdom worthy of such a responsibility?”
“Such a task requires time. I have a kingdom to rebuild, trust between races to establish, and skirmishes with which to deal. But you are right. Within the kingdom, there are no hands I trust more than yours, no mind so noble and able, no heart more humble, no wisdom more discerning. You alone are worthy to undertake such a task.”
“If there were another, your graciousness. Perhaps one of the assembled angels?”
“This is a matter of men,” Pacha el Nai said. “Adonai has entrusted the book to Solous. It is his to entrust to you.”
Korodeth stood, put fist to heart, and said, “Very well. It will be as you say. With your leave, I will prepare myself for the journey ahead.”
Solous nodded, and Korodeth made his way out the back of the throne room. King Solous turned to the assembled angels, still seated patiently. “Adonai wishes me to use your talents in the establishment of my kingdom?”
“He has given us leave to follow your will,” Maewen said.
Solous pressed his folded hands to his chin. He’d not considered how to use the angels after the war had been won. He’d assumed they’d return to the heavens and not return again until needed. How then, to use battle scarred angels? How might they help reestablish the kingdom?
They must bring the people to trust in Adonai. A kingdom unified in faith would not fall. Korodeth would say the same thing. “I’m humbled at such an honor, but far be it from me to disagree with Adonai. His Hand has established my kingdom, and will hold it fast in his grip. Be His fingers, then, and establish His church among my people. Watch over them, defend them from the corruptive power of Shedoah.”
“So be it,” Tiamat thundered. “Where shall the churches be established?”
Solous sat, contemplated the map of Alrujah. Much of it would need reworking, but the land itself, the cities, remained. What was destroyed would be rebuilt. He had only to discern which people would best respond to each angel.
Rising again, his finger on a map, he said, “Maewen. I’ve moved the elves to the island city of Harael. They are devastated from the war, and many still resist the rule of Adonai. They are a stubborn people, but your beauty and graciousness give you the best opportunity to gain their respect. Yesterday, they were our enemies. Today, they are our people, they are Alrujans. You’ve shown your love for the people, and I pray you do so again.
“Moloch, you have gained the trust of the peoples of the Callbred mountains and forests. Their towns and villages have been ravaged by war. Use your powers to bring them life again.
“Abaddon, your battle prowess has impressed the swamp dwellers of Pellbred. They are a stiff-necked people, but loyal. Guide them in the practice of the worship of Adonai, and the swamp will again flourish.
“Tiamat, the coast of Alrujah will be safe under your watchful eyes. Your powers will protect our sailors and ensure the economic strength of our kingdom. The people of Sylvonya are thirsty for direction. Your strong hand will provide for their needs.
“Belphegor, you led the dwarves, who took arms with humans to march against the elves. Your leadership helped us secure Dalova. I charge you now, protect the people whose hearts you’ve won, within the bellies of the mountains and hills, to establish the church of Adonai and lead them in the ways of our God.
“Legion, your troops overcame the elven stronghold in Yeval Forest. The people have come to call it The Bleeding Grounds, and they live in fear. Establish a strong presence as we rebuild what the elves accomplished. In Orensdale, you will build the church of Adonai and lead the people in peace as you led them in war.
“And finally, Pacha el Nai. To you, I entrust the very heart of Alrujah. By your hand, you overcame the fist of the elves in Alrujah. With your strength, you oversaw the transfer of the throne. Among all the angels, you shed the least blood, but won the most victories. Your wisdom and love of peace must establish the church of Adonai here in Alrujah and Varuth, in Harland and Weileighn. The four cities compose the heart of Alrujah, our very economic and military strength. Keep us from corruption and greed.”
The angels nodded in agreement, and vanished with a flourish and shimmer. Solous dismissed his guards and again sat the throne of Alrujah, again felt the weight of the crown. He thought again of the children and women and men scrubbing the cobblestone streets of Alrujah.
Adonai, he prayed, accomplish Your will. Protect the book, that Alrujah may never again know war as it has known these long years.
To those of you who have been following this journey week by week, thank you. To those of you just joining us, or racing to catch up, thank you to. To those who told their friends about The Hand of Adonai, thank you. I appreciate you accompanying me on this journey.
And now that the first book has come to a close, I wanted to take a minute to hear from you. I’ve had some ideas, but would like your opinion. Before launching into book two (which will be quite fun, I assure you), I’d like to know a few things: