Thursday, April 27, 2017

Kingdoms in Chaos - Epic Fantasy Novel

Kingdoms in Chaos
Paul R. Wonning
The Fall of Torne

Kingdoms in Chaos
Kingdoms in Chaos
King Nyle Lithian watched his army's destruction from the castle tower. Red dust swirled and began to settle over his beloved kingdom, covering it with its unwholesome stench. Gwaum’s roar resounded across the valley like nightmarish thunder.
"Gwaum has beaten us," he said to his First Minister, Niram Trum.
Trum's voice trembled with the fear his eyes showed as he asked,"What shall we do, Sire?"
The King’s simple reply, "Flee," sent the minister scurrying away.
They descended the stone steps to the king's court. Queen Betsa stood near the window overlooking the courtyard, their young son Ruther by her side. She turned as the King entered the chamber.
"Gwaum has defeated the army," she said, in a terror shrouded voice.
"We must get out of the castle," the King asserted.
With a glance at Niram, he said, "Gather the court aides and their families and go to the dungeons."
The castle walls rumbled. A column gave way and the stones it supported fell, filling the chamber with dust and debris. Prince Ruther's sobs mingled with the crash of falling stones.
Niram's eyes glazed as terror almost overcame him. He cried in alarm, "The buildings will bury us, Sire."
"Just do as I order." The king said, his voice harsh with urgency, impelling the terror-stricken Niram to act. He disappeared into a corridor.
The King walked to a tapestry emblazoned with the royal coat of arms that covered the wall behind the throne. Pulling the tapestry aside, he pressed a dark-colored stone. A trap door in the floor fell away, revealing a dark passage with stone steps. Cool, dank smelling air swept up from its inky depths. His eyes swept to the Queen. "Go, my darling. Take the Prince. You know the way."
The Queen's dark eyes lingered on her husband. "What will you do?"
The king withdrew his scabbard from its place on the wall and belted it on. He pulled on a chain that hung from his neck. A crystal hung from the chain, a crystal that glowed with a silver radiance. He handed it to the Queen. The radiance dimmed.
“I now pass the rule of the kingdom to you, Betsa. You must find a way to save our son, Ruther and sustain the kingdom. I will not give up the kingdom to Gwaum without defending it."
"You will die, Nyle. Do not do this rash thing, my husband. Escape with us. We need you."
"I will not hide like a rat while this creature ravages my kingdom, killing my subjects. My duty is to my people. Take the boy. The House of Lithian will survive. Here is the Star of Torne. Put it on.”
She put the necklace around her neck. As the crystal touched her skin, the radiance returned. She was now the ruler of Torne.
Another bellow from the monster boomed across the city. Portions of the floor fell away and the wall of the king's chamber collapsed. Red dust drifted into the room. A putrid stink filled the air.
"Go," he commanded.
The Queen, tears brimming in her eyes, paused. She threw her arms around her king, husband and lover. Their hands clasped and they bathed themselves in the glow of one last kiss. One last time he felt her smooth skin. Then he let go.
"Go, Betsa. Take our son and flee."
The queen took Ruther's hand and she led them to the passage.
"Papa, Papa, come with us," the boy said, a sob punctuating his plea.
"Go, my son. Someday you will return as King."
More stones fell and the Queen pulled the Prince behind her as her feet clattered down the stone steps towards the dungeon. The king watched them. A moment later a stone fell, crashing into the floor, covering the passage. He could feel the palace shudder. He darted into the hall. Stones lay scattered around the passage, blocking his route. He turned and ran the other way. Threading his way through the destruction, he found another stair. Down he went. Upon reaching the bottom, he kicked at the door that led outside. A moment after he emerged into the courtyard. His feet pumped against the cobblestone street as he ran from the castle. The acrid smell of smoke choked him as he ran. A loud crash announced its fall. He turned to see his once fine palace now a heap of rubble, dust arising from its remains. A moment later, he turned and ran towards the hill, sword drawn. All around he could hear the sound of screams and moans of people caught in their fallen buildings. Fires erupted from many of the rubble piles as cooking fires spread to the wooden support beams. Smoke billowed across the rubble-filled streets, choking him and burning his eyes. People milled about, confused and terrified.
"Run for the hills," the king said, his voice ringing out above the din. "Save yourselves."
The creature, his task of destroying the city complete, strode into the streets. His eye roamed about, seeking more morsels for his insatiable belly. The king stopped.
Gwaum's eyes fixed on the King's royal garb.
"So, I have found the king," he said, an evil smile crossing his lips. "I love the taste of royal flesh."
His hand descended towards the king. The King drew his sword and stabbed at the palm. Gwaum bellowed in pain and his red, hot blood coated the King's upturned face.
Gwaum's eye burned in anger. "You will die now."
"You will not get me without more of your vile blood staining my land."
Gwaum hesitated. He did not wish to fight this man. He had no desire to shed more of his own blood. Gwaum did not like pain. He pointed at a buring pile of rubble near the king with his red finger. The fire flashed, followed by a sharp crack. Flamed leaped from a nearby fire and engulfed the king. His body fell to the ground, charred and smoking.
"I prefer my meat raw," said Gwaum as he picked the king's body from the stone street. "But you I will eat cooked."
He dangled the body over his mouth for a second, and then dropped it into his maw.
The Kingdom of Torne thus ended.

High above the hills above the city a group of people hurried along a narrow path. Queen Betsa stopped for an instant to survey their surroundings. Below them, they could see the fires of the city of Cleery as it burned. Gwaum stalked the city. On occasion, he stooped to pick up some morsel to feed on. Screams, muted by distance, rose in a terrible shroud of sound from the destruction.
Ignoring the terror that slithered down her spine, she turned to search the rocky bluff that towered over the trail. A familiar landmark teased her eye. Pressing against a rock a rumbling sound announced the opening of a dark crevice in the bluff. She pushed the young prince into the dark opening. "Go, Ruther. I will come soon."
"Enter the crevice," she said to the line of people behind her. "Go now, before Gwaum turns to see us."
One by one, the refugees scurried into the crevice. As the last one entered, she stepped inside.
Servants had lit the torches and they lent their smoky odor to the already acrid air. She pressed a stone besides the opening and the crevice closed. She looked at the Prince as he stood facing her. A torch flickered behind him, shrouding his face in darkness.
She closed her eyes for one moment. By now, the king had surely met his fate. This morning she had awakened full of hope that the wizards would prevail and that they would defeat the monster. The horror of their fall and then the crushing defeat of the last of the king's army changed her life forever.
Queen Betsa opened her eyes. She was now the leader of her people and this dark cavern was her realm.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Quest of the Wizard - Wizard of the Golden Star Series - Sample Chapter 1 - Death in the Forest

Quest of the Wizard
Paul R. Wonning
Book 1 – The Wizard of the Golden Star
Death in the Forest

Quest of the Wizard
Quest of the Wizard
Death moved relentlessly through the forest, making little sound as it crept along, hunger biting at its innards. Emerging into a clearing, the creature’s eyes swept the meadow beyond. A cottage lay at forest’s edge. A thin curl of smoke wafted from the chimney. The creature sensed the smell it sought. Humans. He would feed.

The afternoon sun caressed the land with its golden rays. Beneath its watching eyes, a boy gathered red berries at the forest’s edge. His pail was almost half-full when he heard his mother’s call.
“Arii. Arii honey, it is time to come home. Your father is here and dinner is ready.”
Arii paused and looked in his bucket. The berries’ fragrance nibbled at his nose. His mother made some of the best red berry pie in the valley. He glanced back at the cottage that stood at the edge of the meadow where he was gathering berries. He saw his mother looking for him, her hand shading her eyes as she scanned the meadow. When she sighted him, she waved and then she went back inside.
It took a full bucket of red berries for a pie. He did not have enough. He looked back at the berry patch. Fresh red berries glistened in the sun, inviting him to pick more. Overhead, he could hear the chatter of birds as they awaited his departure so they could resume their feast on the delectable fruit. Just a bit further on he could see a large clump of berries. That clump would finish his bucket. It would take just a few minutes more and he would have enough.
He worked his way further into the patch, the thorns tearing his clothes and scratching his bare arms and legs. He regretted not listening to his mother’s warnings to wear thicker clothing. But the weather was warm and he did not want to get hot and sweaty.
He reached the clump and filled his bucket. Arii was happy. The bucket was full. He turned to walk back to his home. The sound of crashing trees in the forest behind his home swept across the meadow. Arii watched in terror as a huge oak fell, smashing the cottage. His feet froze to the ground as a huge red monster stepped from the forest. A single, hungry fiery red eye bored into his eyes as the creature stood towering over the meadow. He could see his mother, holding his baby sister, wriggle through a window, escaping the ruined cottage. His father followed. He looked up and saw the creature. He interposed himself between the monster and his family.
A huge red hand reached down and grabbed at the man, who turned to flee. He was too late, and the hand clasped him. Arii could hear the crunching of his father’s rib cage as death cut short his scream. Blood flowed from his mouth. The monster raised the man, and with a single gulp, swallowed him. His mother backed away. Her foot caught on a log. She tripped. The monster caught her by the foot, and picked her up.
With upturned maw, he dangled the screaming woman over his head, the baby dangling from the terrified woman’s hand.. The baby slipped from her grip and fell into the black, gaping mouth. The woman followed her child an instant later.
Terror froze Arii’s breath and chilled his heart. The monster belched. He then looked at Arii. A smile played across Gwaum’s face. One more small morsel would finish his meal. He began striding towards him.
Arii dropped his bucket of red berries. The bucket spilled, and the red berries stained the boy’s bare feet. He backed up, slowly at first. Then he turned and ran. He could hear the giant feet of the monster thumping hard on the ground behind him. He ran faster and faster. He reached the trees and fled deep into the forest. The thumping behind him stopped, but Arii ran harder, flung on by his fear.
On and on he ran, until exhausted, he fell at the edge of a small stream. A huge log lay in front of him, dead and hollow. He crept into the log. The rotting wood was dank in his nose as it flaked away. White grubs, exposed from the disturbance, wriggled and burrowed deeper into the wood.
The sun fell. Darkness descended and the night sounds began. Narls howled in the distance. Arii pulled himself deeper into the log, tears of grief and fear falling from his eyes. Exhaustion crept upon him and he finally fell asleep.

Morning dawned in the tiny hamlet of Jarna. Nerza awoke to the chirping of birds in the garden behind his stone cottage. A few people still clung to this village, so far from the Road of Terror. As the sleep left his eyes, Nerza sat up.
The dream had left him unsettled. He had seen a vision of terror drifting through the mists of his sleeping mind. His sister’s face had appeared, her eyes filled with horror. Then it had disappeared, followed by the image of the infant she held in her arms.
Worry ate at Nerza. His sister, her husband and two young children dwelt in a cottage in a protected valley near Jarna. The horror that he saw in his dream he knew well. Hoping it was a vision of the future, he dressed quickly. He would have to hasten if he were to save them.
He ate a sparse, hurried breakfast of hard cheese and bread to satisfy his hunger. He took his snow-white staff with the golden star on the tip of the hilt and walked off down the road. By noon, he reached the small stream that marked the valley. He followed the footpath upstream. His path soon reached the clearing and meadow that marked his sister’s cottage. He stopped horrorstruck, as he saw the crushed cottage. He walked towards it. A bloodstain marked the ground near the cottage. The monster had fed.
Hot tears of grief filled his eyes and sobs burst from his throat. He fell to the ground and beat it with his fists. Finally he stood. Something glinting in the sun at the edge of the meadow caught his eye. He walked towards it.
As he neared it, he could see that it was a metal pail lying on its side, its contents of red berries strewn across the path. He picked it up. He looked towards the forest. Broken branches and trampled wildflowers marked the path of someone fleeing into the forest.
He could see the larger footprints of the monster, which trailed towards the woods.  They appeared to follow someone who had escaped into the forest.
Nerza strode towards the woods. He noted that the huge footsteps stopped, then turned back into the meadow. Who ever it was that escaped was too small a morsel for a monster who had just fed on two adults and a baby.
Perhaps Arii had escaped. The boy loved red berries. Maybe the boy had picked red berries in the meadow and escaped into the woods when the creature appeared. Nerza stepped into the wood. He could see that disturbed leaves on the forest floor, marking the passage of someone.
He noted the distance between the footprints. A child had fled this way. Hope arose in his breast.
Nerza paused and studied the terrain before him. It was summer, and the early spring flowers had faded. The leaf litter from the previous fall was rotting, turning to the mould that would nourish the soil. Tracking the boy would require more woodcraft than wizard craft. Nerza’s father had been a hunter and had imparted these skills, long unused, to Nerza when he was a boy.
He continued his trek through the wood, with an occasional pause to peruse the signs left by the fleeing boy. The trail ended near the brook downstream from his earlier path. Nerza again paused and looked upstream. Then he looked downstream. He crossed the brook and searched for the trail, with no success. It had vanished. He returned to the spot where the trail stopped. Again, he studied the stream. The boy had apparently followed the stream. Arii despaired. What if he had passed the boy earlier, and had not seen or heard him. Which way did he go?
“Arii,” Nerza called. “Arii, are you here?”
A pall of silence hung over the forest.
A huge log by the stream’s bank beckoned him to sit and rest. Nerza sat down to think. Silence surrounded him as he sat, deep in thought.
He became aware of a slight sound. He pricked up his ears. The sound seemed to flow around him. What was it and where was it coming from?
He stood up and glanced at the log. Was the log talking to him?
He walked to the end and saw that it was hollow. The log was big, as was the opening. It was big enough to hide a small child. He withdrew the wand from the handle of the staff. Calling the power of fire, the wizard used the wand to ignite the tip of a wooden limb that lay on the ground nearby. He picked up the flaming brand and held it near the opening, peering inside. At first, in the flickering light he could see nothing. But he heard what sounded like a whimper of fear. Peering closer, he could see a small face reflected back at him.
“Arii? It is your Uncle Nerza. Is that you? Come out, boy. Do not be afraid. You are safe, now.”
The whimpering stopped, and the boy crawled out, covered with the decaying wood of the tree and leaf fragments. A wriggling grub lay on his shoulder. Clothing torn and stained, he bore the dank smell of decaying wood. Nerza brushed the grub off.
“Uncle Nerza. Oh, Uncle Nerza.”
The boy grasped the wizard around the shoulders. His sobs filled the forest. His tears stained Nerza’s shoulders. He held the boy for a long time, trying to comfort him.
The boy, his voice thick with sorrow and fear, said, “Oh, Uncle Nerza, it was horrible. The monster broke our house. He killed momma and papa.”
“I know, Arii. I saw your house. I tracked you through the forest. I hoped against hope that you escaped and were safe.”
“We will never be safe, Uncle Nerza. Not as long as that horrible monster lives.”
His sobs returned.
Finally, Nerza pushed the boy away and studied his face.
“You will come to live with me now, Arii. You will come with me to Jarna.”
“Will the monster come there, too? Will he eat us there?”
Nerza shook his head. “I have protected my house with a magic spell. Gwaum cannot see my house. He will pass us by.”
“Why didn’t you protect my house, Uncle?”
“I wanted to, Arii. Your father did not like wizards. He would not let me place any kind of spell. He thought the valley was safe.”
“But it wasn’t, Uncle. The monster found us. He killed them and ate them.”
“Yes, the monster did horrible things, Arii.”
Nerza stood. He took Arii’s hand and said, “It is time to go, Arii. We will go to my home. You will be safe there.”
He and Arii strode through the forest. Nerza took a different path. He followed the stream to its junction with the larger stream, and this he followed to the road. Then, holding Arii’s hand, they walked to his stone cottage near Jarna. In less than a day, Nerza’s role as uncle had changed to parent of a young, growing boy. He hoped that he was equal to the task.

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Sunday, April 9, 2017

Gardener's Guide to Growing Beets

Gardener's Guide to Growing Beets
Gardener's Guide to Growing Beets

Beets are one of the most popular vegetables to grow in the garden. The sweet earthy roots nutritious source of vitamins, minerals other nutrients. The Gardeners' Guide to Growing Beets serves as a valuable resource on the culture of growing beets as well as instructions on how to freeze, can and harvest this delicious, popular food. No vegetable is complete without a patch of beets to offer its share of summery sweetness.

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Sunday, April 2, 2017

Epic Fantasy Novel - The Rise of the Pirate King

Epic Fantasy Novel - The Rise of the Pirate King
Epic Fantasy Novel - The Rise of the Pirate King

Under the vicious assault of Gwaum, the Kingdom of Sylvanhaven fell. The few that fled the catastrophe barely escaped with their lives. Tarque rescued Prince Bearl, heir to the kingdom, only to fall victim to pirates.
Tossed overboard in a small boat, Tarque despaired that the boy would suffer slavery as the powerful Sword of Vin fell into the hands of a red haired pirate. Using the magic power of the sword, the pirate Bort becomes the Pirate King of the Six Kingdoms. Only Bearl can destroy the Pirate King. But only if Tarque can find him and restore his legacy.

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© Paul R. Wonning 2017