Category Archives: Fantasy

Review of R. J. Gilbert’s DUNGEON OF ILLUSION

Dungeon of Illusion (Tales of Vantoria #3)Dungeon of Illusion by R.J. Gilbert
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

DUNGEON OF ILLUSION, by Robert J. A. Gilbert, is the third novel in the TALES OF VANTORIA series. In it he describes the unexpected arrest of Wenchel and his friends when they arrive at the isolated mountain city of Samsara to go to the Palace of Worlds. After a rescue by Grolit, a soldier working for Luciana’s mother, they are on the run pursued by a cyborg lizard, a former friend of Grolit’s, and the Lizard’s drone army. What follows is the kind of non-stop action that keeps me interested. The highly visual descriptions of the mountain city, the mines, village and lake, as well as drone soldiers and huge predatory spiders make for a captivating tale.

The story also has some thought-provoking moments when, for example, young Jeremy laments the absence of his father after his parents divorced because they couldn’t stop arguing. Seeing the fear of all disagreement and the loss experienced from the divorce through Jeremy’s eyes was quite moving. The non-stop action, the excellent dialogue, and the imaginative pictures the writing portrays make this a five-star book for me.

In summary, if you like (as I do) a mixture of science fiction and fantasy, an action-filled tale that keeps you reading, filled with moments that make you think, this may be a book for you. I highly recommend it.

View all my reviews

A Review of REVELATIONS SOULSIGHT, a Novel by Robert Christian Reed

Revelations Soulsight: A clean Christian fantasy full of actionRevelations Soulsight: A clean Christian fantasy full of action by Robert Christian Reed
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This story describes an epic battle between good and evil. However, it is a battle with a difference. Good, strives to keep the battle from ending, since the ongoing battle permits the operation of grace and the rescue of the lost.

The forces of evil, naturally enough, want evil to win the battle and triumph. But there is a third party called The Watchers. They are angels who have taken on immortal bodies and fathered children, the Nephilim. The Watchers also want the battle to end, but do not want Satan to win. So sometimes they help the forces of evil and sometimes they aid the forces of good.

High schoolers Sarah and David Krieger are orphans living in Boston. David is gifted with extraordinary abilities. Johnathan (Uncle John) Adler, their newly designated guardian, takes Sarah and David to his home in Washington state in the high country near the Cascade Mountains. Sarah notices that there is much more to Uncle John and his son Jake than meets the eye. There seems to be a shared secret between Jake, David and Uncle John from which Sarah is excluded.

If you like epic battles, hand-to-hand combat, and fantastic creatures, you will enjoy this book. It is filled with demons such as Baal and Moloch, hell hounds, gargoyles that come to life, and even familiar animals such as dogs and horses that have supernatural abilities.

I enjoyed the exhilaration of the combat in the story. I liked even better that the author uses the action to ask important thought-provoking questions that leave the reader with more than an action-packed story.

At one point, Samyael, one of the Watchers, had commissioned a life-sized painting of Christ upon the cross. He looks at it again and sees Mary crying at the foot of the cross. He asks:

“… why did Mary cry? If she believed in Him, then where was her faith? If she knew her son was the Christ, why did she weep?”

In the end Sarah surprises us. We learn John, Jake, and David’s secret. However, there are enough loose ends to let us know there will be a sequel.

View all my reviews

To see the review on Goodreads
To see the review on Amazon

Review of THE DRAGONS OF SHEOL by David Hershey

The first review of The Dragons of Sheol appeared months ago on Goodreads. I have always found David Hershey’s reviews thought-provoking and insightful. Here is his review of The Dragons of Sheol as well as the link to the original posting. I found this in my draft collection on my website and thought I should belatedly make it available for completeness since I have linked to several other reviews. David Hershey rated The Dragons of Sheol as 4 out of 5 stars. I have taken his comment of “there needed to be a summary of where we’ve been so far” to heart.

This is the third book in the Halcyon series and the third that I’ve had the privilege of reviewing for free. Social media has lots of problems, but one of its positives is that you can connect with people. [I’ve] never met Pete, but I’d almost consider him a friend. Or perhaps a kindred spirit.

Pete loves fantasy and has worked hard in creating his own fantasy world. I recall loving the first book, The Halcyon Dislocation, and liking the second, The Battle for Halcyon. “Recall” is an appropriate word there, as it’s been years since I read them. I guess I’ll start the review with a negative (well, I did say nice things about Pete first!): there really needed to be a summary of where we’ve been so far! Even Stephen King did this in his Dark Tower series and you can find summaries of that all over the internet. I imagine reading these books closer together would remedy this. But apart from the main characters, I struggled to remember.

On top of this, the primary big bad of the first two books is barely mentioned (Meglir). Instead the antagonist is Bigelow, a lieutenant of Meglir’s who has a personal vendetta against Al, one of the mains. But I couldn’t remember who Bigelow was. I pieced enough together as the story went, but a summary would have been nice.

Another thing to note about this book is simply its brevity. In a world of Sanderson and Jordan and Martin where world-building is everything, a lot is left to the imagination here. That’s not necessarily a negative. Yet it would be nice to know a bit more about secondary characters like Dwight and Tom and others who are usually around and sometimes say and do things but don’t seem well-developed.

Before I said Pete’s work reminds me of Lewis and Tolkien. Lewis’ Narnia stories were brief and the world was a bit shadowy as Lewis relied on the reader’s imagination. Even Tolkien’s The Hobbit includes 13 dwarves in Thorin’s company but most are not well-developed at all. Dwight and Tim are like Ori and Nori: they’re always around but you don’t know them. [Honestly], this book reminded me a lot of Terry Brooks Sword of Shannara series as I recall a few primary characters being complex and others just being there.

That said, I’m not gonna fault Pete for not writing a Wheel of Time rip off! Sure, a 600 page book full of details would be fun, but it’d be easy to lose focus. This book is about Dave and Al and Floyd and maybe 1-2 others. They are who we know and their actions drive the story. Each of them is a strong character. Reading their adventures remains fun.

And adventure they have! Dragons and spiders and other creatures chase them around the island of Sheol. Sheol, with its real world connotations was distracting as it’s quite different here. It’s not an underworld or land of the dead, though it is not a pleasant place either. Once I rid my mind of preconceptions, I found Pete’s creation scary and riveting.

Overall, it’s a great read. Pete’s best skill remains thing in real world style conversations into the story. Al and Floyd argue about God, Al reads his Bible, people pray. The characters aren’t preachy or unrealistic, they are simply Christian characters (or interested seekers) having an adventure and having conversations. Imagine Legolas and Gimli discussing the gods and such over a campfire during the quest. That’s what Pete gives us: the conversations other authors skip.

If you like fantasy, check this one out.

My Review of THE SORROWFISH. The Call of the Lorica (Book #1)

My Review

Sorrowfish (The Call of the Lorica, #1)Sorrowfish by Anne C. Miles
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Canard is a world in trouble. It is sustained by a life-giving song which emanates from a huge, damaged tree. The Conclave, a severe religious order, is purportedly working to keep the tree alive and nurture it back to health. Yet the tree continues to grow weaker.

Trystan dan Tenkor, a prince and bard-in-training, Danethor Thomas Whitley, a dewin (wizard), and Sara Moore, an artist and college student in our world, are linked to the attempt to rescue the tree. Anne C. Miles, weaves their stories together with great skill. I learned to love the beauty of Canard and was troubled by the unfolding evil in the leadership of the Conclave. It is a beautiful story, with surprising plot turns and characters that captured my interest and allegiance.

There were many surprising and delightful moments in the plot. Without giving away too much, in one poignant moment, Danethor had been captured by the Conclave and was being pressured to cooperate. To me it was clear he would be tortured until he broke or died. I was calling for him, as a reader, to pretend to collaborate. He did not and the following events, although unexpected, were very satisfying.

The world that Anne Miles has created is also filled with very imaginative and enthralling entities: gnomes, fae, Chymaera, tunebells, grotesques, and Caprices, to name a few. They each have unique properties and characteristics. They lend excitement to the world exploration that is a significant part of this story.

At this point, I would like to add a personal note describing why this story was particularly significant to me. As a scientist and Christ-follower, I tend to see God through the lens of the things I love and cherish. That is to say my love of physics, chemistry, and biochemistry leads me to see God as The Great Mind, The Supreme Logician, The Designer and Sustainer of the cosmos.

In writing this story, Anne Miles has taken a deliberately artistic and musical path. The world is sustained by the Song. Musical notes and the octave play a significant role in the world building. One of the key protagonists (Sara) is working on a sculpture that captures her “heartfire.” As a reader, seeing the world through the artistic eyes of the main characters, I received a whole new perspective that led me to see God not only as a Great Scientist but also as The Great Artist. In writing this story, Miles filled in a blind spot for me.

In closing, this is a wonderful book that I will likely read again and again. I rate it five stars.

View all my reviews

Review of THE DRAGONS OF SHEOL: “An Exciting Story with Superb World-Building”

C. S. Wachter is a fantasy writer with more than seven books published including the four volume The Seven Words series. It is both delightful and instructive to read an encouraging review from an accomplished world-builder and fantasy author on the third book in The Halcyon Cycle, The Dragons of Sheol.

To read the C. S. Wachter review on Goodreads

To read the C.S. Wachter review on Amazon

In case the links stop working and also for your convenience, the 4/5 star review is posted below …

When Al Gleeson’s wife and child are kidnapped by an old enemy, Al and his friends travel to Abaddon to stage a rescue mission. Abaddon is a fearful place filled with strong enemies; and, yet, the rescuers find friendship and help when least expected. The story is filled with twists and the rescue mission seems destined to fail at every turn.

This is an exciting story with superb world building. I felt the terror as the Necoran attacked and the ground rumble as the pachydons charged. The way the rebels work through the Guild and the feel of the city of Seth is wholistic and believable. And . . . of course, the dragons! Black. Brown. And the loveable Green.

So much of the action takes place on the terraces where my fear of heights caused me shivers when I thought of the immensity of the drop offs. Not for the faint-hearted but excellent fare for an armchair adventurer.

The action of the story begins with Dave, but he is only one of many characters. (The POV is restricted to only two—Dave and Al—so it is not overwhelming) Though there is a degree of depth to the characters, the depth is the fact that this is a plot driven story.

The Christianity is woven through the story in snippets of conversation, thoughts, and prayers. Some of the rescuers question the existence of God while others exhibit a strong faith. This is not a treatise on religion, but a fantasy and Kazmaier handles the Christian aspects well. But, deeper than any character’s faith or lack thereof, the very existence of Abaddon, Sheol, and the Bent Ones establishes the foundation of a Creator within the world-building itself. The Green Dragons express a hope in the Creator. Once again, well done.

Personally, I prefer character-driven stories to plot-driven stories. So, for me, this earns a four-star rating. It is a well-written book with interesting scientific details interspersed. I recommend you read the series starting with book one, The Halcyon Dislocation, to get a better feel for the characters.

I received a copy of this book for review purposes. This review is my own unbiased opinions.

THE DRAGONS OF SHEOL Review: “A solid, well-balanced novel within an epic framework”

Writing a novel is a bit like cooking dinner for someone else: a badly prepared meal will appeal to no one, but even a well-prepared main course will not appeal to everyone, since tastes legitimately differ.

Having said that, it is always a special pleasure for me, as a writer, to find a kindred spirit that seems to appreciate the same things in novels that I do. I am so grateful for speculative-fiction-author Tessa Stockton’s thoughtful and insightful five star review of The Dragons of Sheol. Check the links below …

On Goodreads

On Amazon.com

In case you have difficulty accessing the review on these sites, see below …

After having finished reading The Dragons of Sheol, I can’t help but come away feeling as if this is one of the most solid, well-balanced novels within a high fantasy, epic journey setting. This is not a subgenre in which I often read, as it’s not one of my favorites in the speculative fiction realm. However, the amount of work and detail the author skillfully presented was impressive. That in itself won me over, never mind the successful plotline.

This is some of what I appreciated about the book: deep symbolism, amount of fine detail, weapons hosting names, well-developed and likeable characters, as well as villains who make you cringe. There’s an array of interesting creatures—and I enjoyed that a vicious lup was adopted and turned rather cute and helpful. I also favored Hanomer, a critter with a hand at the end of his tail, and the green dragons were downright cool. The story held intriguing manners of communication, and the powers of nature were highly descriptive. Abaddon is evil and the dark magic that presides there invokes fear and trepidation as it should. The Dragons of Sheol is a complex story well carried out.

As a Christian reader, there are refreshing surprises along the way. One is with Al, a protagonist who kick-starts this journey in a search to find his kidnapped pregnant wife and stepson. The honesty that is painted regarding his sense of failure and defeat followed by purpose is realistic and relatable. And I appreciated most of all how questions were presented about the nature of God via down-to-earth conversations between characters; therefore, it never came across as preachy. A teaser from one of my favorite exchanges comes from character Dave in speaking to Al: “At the end of the day, my question still stands. Can God really love me if he’d let me choose a destiny that involves eternal torment?” It’s this kind of philosophical exploration that works—really works in causing one to think and ask those tough questions regarding spirituality and fate.

Overall, I was impressed with the amount of creativity, philosophy, purpose, sheer writing skill, and also a unique addition of scientific elements to cap this outstanding world-build. We are gifted by the author with the explanation of air pressure and how it is that dragons can fly, the topography of Abaddon, contour of the terraces, relative maps, and an in-depth glossary.

In offering something constructive, it would be with the chapter titles. Seems like an insignificant thing, and maybe it is. However, I as a reader find that an air of mystery would have had more impact. Many of the chapter titles here flat-out told me beforehand what to expect, and that kind of killed the suspense for me (because I especially love elements of suspense and mystery). As an example, when I read the chapter heading, “Necroan Attack,” I thought, “Okay, something called a Necroan is going to attack,”—and I was right! With all the interesting twists throughout this book, the chapter titles seemed, in contrast, too direct in telling. One of my writing coaches from back in the day said the best thing for a writer to give a reader is room for their own imagination to fill in some blanks. Tease them with hints of what a chapter might be about, but don’t summarize the chapter by its heading.

Those who admire J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis will really dig this epic fantasy by Peter Kazmaier, as their influences are evident. Yet, I can also recommend this book in general, even if it isn’t what you’d typically read, because it’s very well done and deserving of a five-star review.

I received this book as an ARC for free and am giving it my honest review voluntarily.

A Five-Star Review of THE DRAGONS OF SHEOL on Goodreads

The Dragons of Sheol has just received a five-star review on Goodreads. For your convenience you can read the text of the review below or check it out on Goodreads by following this link.

Thank you to all who have read and commented on this book. You are most appreciated!

Current Goodreads rating average for The Dragons of Sheol: 4.33/5.00 (3 ratings)

What the reviewer said …

The Dragons of Sheol is an exciting, action packed rescue mission into a land called Abaddon, a continent ruled over by ruled over by Meglir, an ancient who has given himself over to evil called ‘a bent one.’

Pam, the pregnant wife of Al Gleeson, has been kidnapped along with her little son and taken to Abaddon by Bigelow, her ex. Bigelow has given himself over to the dark side and allied himself with Meglir. Al is going to find his wife Pam and his stepson. They’re all in peril. Abaddon is a place that people shudder at the mention of.

Al is assisted by Dave and Arlana, friends from Feiramar, and a group of friends from Halcyon. Later they’re helped by Tandor, a guild member from the town of Seth who they rescue.

The characters were great, both human and non-human. They were noble and had integrity, even though they all had their struggles. I’m going to miss them. One of my favourites was Hanomer, a badger-like mammal with a hand at the end of his tail.

I loved the fellowship, the fighting scenes, the God explanations and the unity that existed amongst the friends. It’s adventure peppered with wise discussions about Al’s beliefs. Al’s faith is always there, but not overt. Occasionally, scripture was used for guidance when it was appropriate.

The world building was excellent. The scenery was more better than I expected, considering the Abaddon Plain lay ten kilometers below sea level and Sheol was a deep chasm in the middle of the plain leading down to the infernal sea. There are eight terraces which are about three kilometres wide. Dragons are on fourth terrace down.

Every level in Abaddon was different and some of the life forms were really scary. There were huge pachydons, giants with small heads called Necroans, hostile apes, trees that ate things and spiders on the eighth level that gave me arachnophobia.

Along with the fighting and fellowship was the fear factor. You always felt like their survival was on the knife edge, sometimes literally.

This is an epic, good versus evil story. It’s wholesome, and can be enjoyed from young adult up. If you enjoyed Lord of the Rings and Narnia, you will enjoy this too.

Peter Kazmaier is a skilled story teller and a man of faith. His finely crafted book starts with action and keeps up it’s pace, there are no boring bits. While the book is part of a series, it can be read as a stand-alone book. I recommend it.

Launch Special: 99-Cent Sale (USD) on THE HALCYON CYCLE Books 1 and 2

Wolfsburg Imprints has never run a sale on The Battle for Halcyon, but they are running a 99-cent sale now on this e-book for a limited time as launch-bonus for book 3, The Dragons of Sheol. If you haven’t yet tried books 1 and 2 in The Halcyon Cycle or, if you’re like me, and wish to have an e-book copy for reading after “lights out,” now is the time to take advantage of this special value. You’ll need a free Kindle® app on your smart phone or tablet to read these e-books.

Download the e-books from my Amazon® author page.

For my Canadian readers, even though my publisher (Word Alive Press) is based in Winnipeg, the Amazon sale listing in is USD. That currently translates approximately to $1.32 CAD.

Barnes and Noble® has been the First to List THE DRAGONS OF SHEOL

The first listing of THE DRAGONS OF SHEOL

Barnes and Noble® were the first to list The Dragons of Sheol. If you would like to check it out, here is the link.

Books are Expensive!

Books are expensive, especially if you buy hard cover or trade paperbacks and have to include the shipping costs. It makes sense then to be reasonably sure the money you’re spending is worthwhile.

June is launch month for my latest book, The Dragons of Sheol, the third and final book in The Halcyon Cycle. This book should list on Amazon in a few weeks. If you think you might be interested, why not read the first few chapters. The first chapter is appended. I plan to make a few more chapters available for reading later in the month.

If the image does not display use this link to read the original blog with images.

Here is the first chapter of my upcoming book, The Dragons of Sheol. I like books that begin quickly, with a good deal of action right away. I hope you enjoy it.

Chapter 1 Dirty Tricks

Copyright © 2019 by Peter Kazmaier

Dave glowered at the diminutive figure darting and swaying before him like a jack-in-the-box. Wiping the sweat from his swollen left eye, Dave mumbled to himself, “Come here Brandor, you half pint. All I need is one touch with my quarterstaff and you’re finished.” Not for the first time in this match, Dave wished he had picked a lighter weapon. Maybe then he could land a blow.

His fellow students at Gur Academy stood in a circle around the two combatants, cheering them on.

“Come on Rokodor,” called one using Dave’s Gurundarian name, “All you have to do is fall on the little squirt to win.”

“Brandor, stop with the bouncing around. You make my eyes tired,” chimed in another.

Dave fixed his eyes on Brandor’s, whose slender form was seventy pounds lighter than Dave’s solid, well-muscled body. He could smell Brandor’s self-confidence. Then he saw his opponent turn and smile at one of the young women watching them. Dave seized on the moment and rushed in, raising the end of his staff for a quick blow.

Brandor evaded the swing easily, crouched and swung a low, sweeping blow at Dave. Dave felt a sharp crack on the side of his leg. It sent him sprawling to the ground, gasping in pain. He moved to get onto his feet.

“Stop!” came the order from the Academy commandant. Brandor was poised to drive his quarterstaff into Dave’s head, as Dave crouched, vulnerable, on the ground. Dave dug his fingers into the sand of the practice ground. He could smell Brandor’s indecision. He could sense his hatred.

“You’re lucky, skork. You don’t belong here with us. Go back to your own kind,” said Brandor through gritted teeth. Sullenly, he pulled his weapon back from the killing blow, then stood at attention, facing the commandant.

Skork was the pejorative used to describe all bent and broken peoples from the zombie-like Apemen, to the Halfmen, and even to Dave’s own people who were inferior to the Ancients in longevity, speed, and several other attributes.

Brandor was a young nephew of Arachodor, a member of the ruling Council of Thirteen. Arachodor had objected strenuously to Dave’s acceptance into Gurundarian society, after Sirona the healer had called him back from death. In saving him using a healing plant tuned only to Ancients, Sirona had changed Dave’s body from that of a Lesser Man (what Ancients called ordinary people from earth) to that of an Ancient.

I wonder if Brandor would have killed me if the commandant hadn’t stopped the match? No one’s been killed during Academy combat training in more than a hundred years, Dave thought.

He stood up gingerly and limped toward the circle of onlookers. The Academy stood high on the western slopes of the Barrier Mountains and he could see the vast expanse of Lake Tolbar shimmering in the distance. His wife, Arlana, came toward him. Clutching his right arm to support him, she walked with him away from the crowd.

Dave was glad she didn’t talk about the fight. She had neither his strength nor toughness, but she was as fast as thought. She had deftly handled Brandor in a sparring match the previous week. She still had a bruise where Brandor had flailed out and “accidently” hit her when she had started to walk away after their match. Dave had planned to teach Brandor a lesson today—and hadn’t been able to touch him. The humiliation was almost unbearable.

“Well, husband,” said Arlana, “are you ready for our expedition test the day after tomorrow?”

“I think I’m ready, Princess. Any idea where we’re going?”

“I hear we’re heading to the eastern slopes of the Barrier Mountains to replant the guardian trees that were burned by the Halfmen.”

“Sounds easy enough,” said Dave.

“Things are never easy when we’re close to the Skull Mountains,” said Arlana.

“I wish we could get some leave and head home,” said Dave.

“You’re thinking what I’m thinking—how are Al, Pam and Little Thomas?”

“I am. Since we’ve been at the Academy, we haven’t been able to visit our ‘mailbox’ to see if they’ve sent us a message from home. They’re probably wondering why we haven’t answered.”

“Shhhh, Dave. Keep your voice down,” whispered Arlana.

Dave glanced over his shoulder, relieved that there was no one in sight.

“Anyway,” continued Arlana, still whispering, “Since Al and Pam know we’re away at the Academy, I don’t think they’ll be too worried about our lack of communication.”

When they finally reached their quarters, Dave went out back to wash in the creek-fed shower. When he returned, he saw Arlana and Ferris, her cousin, in serious conversation. They looked up as he limped in.

“What’s going on?” asked Dave. “You look like there’s been a death in the family.”

“We have trouble, Dave,” said Ferris. “Your old enemy, Arachodor, used his influence with some of the teachers. He’s made the motion that you shouldn’t be allowed to join the cadets on their expedition. They claim your lack of competence makes the trip too dangerous for you.”

“Arachodor’s concern for my welfare is—well—touching. Can they really do that?”

“They can, and they are trying to do exactly that. I’m about to head over there now, to intercede on your behalf. You deserve to take this first test. Arlana and I have been training since we were very young. You may not have had all the instruction we’ve had, but you’ve seen more real combat than half the Rangers in our force. That should count for something. Perhaps they’ll listen to a seasoned Ranger who knows you.”

Dave sat down and poured himself a cup of siph. “What I don’t get is why Arachodor’s argument for my exclusion is even being considered. After all, we’re only going camping alone on the other side of the Barrier Mountains; there will be seasoned Rangers and Guardians on patrol—so where’s the danger?”

“Husband, as I said before, anytime we are on the other side of the Barrier Mountains we are in the wild and there is danger. The guardian trees have been destroyed in large measure, so there is no protection from that quarter.”

“But I thought,” interrupted Dave, “that the Bent Ones had all fled to Abaddon, and the Halfmen would be cowering in the Skull Mountains, nursing their wounds.”

“We have no proof,” said Ferris, “that the Bent One controlling the Halfmen has left. He may have left. He may still be there. Or maybe a black swamp oak has been established in the Skull Mountains, so that he can travel back and forth to Abaddon. We just don’t know, and so we assume the worst. That is why we train so long before venturing beyond the Barrier Mountains. From the cadet leader’s point of view, you have had much less training than the other recruits.”

After Ferris left, Arlana looked at Dave as if she were deciding whether to tell him something.

“What is it, Arlana?”

“What Ferris said, about us learning to fight from our earliest years is true, you know.”

“Are you telling me you know why I’m losing to a pipsqueak like Brandor? I know I’m losing because I’m just too slow.”

“You’re not too slow. You’re actually much faster now than you were before you became one of us. You’re losing because he knows exactly what you’re going to do a fraction of a second before you do it. Let me show you.”

She picked up her light quarterstaff and took up a defensive position with her left foot forward. Look at the muscles in my arm and my calf; do you see how they’re tensed? It means I’m getting ready to evade.” She shifted slightly. “Now I’m ready to launch an attack. Do you see the difference?”

“So that’s why you beat the little twerp. He was so busy watching your beautiful muscles flexing and unflexing that he completely forgot to defend himself.”

Arlana jabbed Dave in the shoulder with her quarterstaff. “Kree ah na koo![1] Stop joking. This is serious. In two days you could be out on the mountain slope without me to take care of you. How would it look if you got yourself killed? All the women would wonder if you went out looking for death to get away from me. Think of what that would do to my reputation.” They both burst out laughing.

She knows how to handle me. She’s not just good to me—she’s good for me, Dave thought.

“One more thing, husband. You probably don’t yet realize how much more acute your sense of smell is now that you’re an Ancient. By paying attention to your nose, you can tell a lot about your opponent. Is he fearful? Is he confident? Is his anger growing? All these emotions will tell you what he will do next.”

They sparred for a couple of hours with only the occasional breather. Dave began to see what Arlana meant and started to anticipate her moves. Then Arlana showed him how to disguise his next move by deliberately attacking from a disguised defensive posture.

The door opened and Ferris entered again. He was scowling.

Dave’s spirits flagged. “I take it they won’t let me go.”

“Actually,” said Ferris, “they were surprisingly easy to convince. Your father-in-law, Kelldor, and your adopted father Celyddon, had anticipated this last-minute difficulty and were both there to speak on your behalf. The board of the school logged Arachodor’s protests, and then capitulated, agreeing to let you go.”

“So why the long face?” asked Arlana.

“It was too easy,” said Ferris. “I think all of us have been duped. They’re digging a pit for you through the test, and they wanted to register their disapproval in advance. If you have an ‘accident,’ they’ll shake their heads and say, ‘We did all we could to avert this tragedy.’ Be on your guard and watch your back.”

It was getting late and Ferris left. Dave and Arlana began to organize their equipment for the trip. Dave tried on his living cloak, hung a small satchel containing a light gourd around his neck and strapped on his long belt knife, which he had named Skene Dhu. Dave had found his knife, along with his sword, Gram, in a blade tree near the Ancient fortress of Kellburg.

Dave realized he needed a tie to fasten his sleeping blanket to his pack. He had some stout leather, which he had taken from the hide of a Rokash. He took out Skene Dhu and examined the blade lovingly. It had a lustrous blue sheen unlike any other metal blade. The bioengineered alloy of molybdenum-tungsten steel, protein spacer, and diamond fiber, cut through thick Rokash leather as if it were the thinnest of papers.

He put the knife back in the metal-lined sheath and walked over to Arlana.

“Princess, I want you to take this.” He held out Skene Dhu.

“Dave, I couldn’t. The blade tree knife came to you. I have a good knife …”

“Arlana, please take it. I need to keep you safe. If you don’t have this knife, I’ll worry.”

She peered into his eyes, as if wanting to wrest his thoughts from him. Suddenly she relaxed, raised herself on her toes, and kissed him lightly on the cheek.

“We’ll trade knives. Viper will look after you.” She handed him her knife and scabbard and then they both turned to organize their packing.

__________

“No, no ye fool,” Grimbor, the Blade Meister growled as he jabbed Dave in the lower chest. “Rokodor, ye canna shift from an evade form directly to a cut or thrust form. Yer feet are not set. It makes ye too slow. How many times do I have to tell ye that ye must use a transition form first?”

Dave was exhausted. Grimbor had summoned him, to offer some extra help on using his sword after yesterday’s fiasco with his quarterstaff. Now after three hours, Dave was laboring and Grimbor didn’t even seem to be tired.

Dave began to circle once more. Grimbor was shaped like a fire hydrant, with no waist. He was much shorter than Dave, but his shoulders were just as broad. Yet he was fast as well as strong. With his eyes fixed on Dave’s, Grimbor’s feet and sword moved in perfect coordination, with a grace and fluidity Dave wished he could match.

After another flurry of exchanges during which Dave was barely able to evade and block the lightning attacks, Grimbor sighed and said, “Enough fer today.” Sitting down, he gestured to a space on the bench beside him and offered Dave a drink of water.

Dave took a long pull from the water skin and handed it back to Grimbor.

“I know I’m bein’ hard on ye lad, but I’m tryin’ to get ye ready for the test tomorrow.”

“Even if I see a Halfman tomorrow, I don’t think he will press me nearly as hard as you do, Blade Meister.”

Grimbor’s eyes became hard. “It’s not Halfmen I be thinkin’ of. Fer a youngin, ye have many enemies, and to my way of thinkin’, Halfmen are not the most dangerous of ‘em. Watch yer back and practice yer forms every night when it’s safe to do so. Hmm.” Grimbor lapsed into thought.

After a while he spoke again. “Rokodor, ye be fast, and ye have good instincts,” he said. “But ye spend too much time thinkin’ what to do next, and when ye be thinkin’ ye not be watchin’ the enemy. I be wantin’ ye to use only one form in each of the five categories. Practice those until ye can change from one form to the other without thinkin’. When you have those perfect we be addin’ some more.”

With that, Grimbor rose and clapped Dave on the back. “One more thing, Rokodor, find a safe campsite. The safest be a campsite yer enemies canna find. The second safest be one where ye hear ‘em coming. Be smart! Be safe! Come back to me alive.”


[1] An expression in the Ancient Tongue meaning “May the Creator help me!”

If you would like to see what else I have written, including earlier books in The Halcyon Cyclehttp://bit.ly/2qzzi4P-Author