Kingfisher – Chapter 1

Below is the opening chapter to Kingfisher: Slave to Honor. If it grabs you, please download a FREE copy from Inkitt Publishers and read. Then do me a favor and leave an honest review. You are helping Inkitt decide if they want to invest in my novel and I thank you for helping.

Please note there is profanity in this chapter. It is meant for adult consumption. 

Alon

Kingfisher Cover

 

Chapter 1

I have unleashed thousands of arrows on the battlefield and in training, but never shot from the swaying deck of a ship. My heavy ash bow creaks in anticipation as I draw back the bowstring. Peering along the arrow’s shaft, the feathered fletching grazing my cheek, I wait to see the whites of the pirates’ eyes. My target is a huge brute of a man waving a curved cutlass and braying for his ship to get close enough to our small stout Argosy trading vessel. I steady my feet. He must never board this ship.

 

“Blessed Lir. They be twice our crew in number,” a man wheezes next to me.

 

There are few fighters among this crew. Most are simple, warm-hearted sailors, and I have become attached to them as we cross the sea to the land of Cassia.

 

“Hold steady,” I say. “They won’t be as many when we cross blades.”

 

“Archers!” cries the captain, her speckled snowy-grey hair similar in color to the sails billowing above us, and her sun-dried skin a testimony to a life spent at sea. “Let the Easterner shoot first. Wait for my order.” Leaning close to my ear, she whispers. “A true aim will buoy my crew’s fragile morale.”

 

I nod. I have selected a dozen targets. “Let them hold their fire until I empty my quiver.”

 

“You won’t have long, my friend.”

 

“I don’t need…”

 

My bowstring sings as I release my first arrow. I do not wait to see the man collapse. Already a second arrow is nocked and released, and my mind enters a realm of detached clarity.

 

The pirate captain barks as he sees me. “The black bastard! Take him do–oooow!”

 

His voice ends in an abrupt squeal as my arrow pierces his throat and our crew cheers. My quiver is empty and the enemy pared down by twelve. I am irritated. I had fourteen arrows.

 

“Now,” I say.

 

“Fire!” the captain roars and a volley of black arrows arches up towards the sleek pirate ship.

 

After several volleys, there is a pregnant lull as the distance between the ships closes. Then the captain unsheathes a stout sword. “Prepare to be boarded. Follow The Six.”

 

The Six are huge men who serve as her loyal, permanent crew. They are all strong and bawdy, and completely devoted to her. I suspected at first that they were the reason why no drafted sailor questioned a woman being captain. But I was being disingenuous. She exudes respect, walking the deck with ease, commanding her crew with a stern, but fair hand. I hold her in high regard.

 

The cabin boy hovers near me and I smell piss. His eyes are wide and his face drips with beady sweat. “It’ll be okay,” I say, the father in me rising, and I pass him my bow and quiver. “Stay below. You have no place in this fight.”

 

He glances at the captain. She nods, but the tilt of her head suggests she does not appreciate someone else giving orders on her ship. I apologize. Taking charge is a deeply ingrained habit for I have led armies and ruled a country under my emperor, my Sun-Above-The-Mountains. But that life is long behind me and I must focus on the fight at hand.

 

There won’t be room to swing a broadsword on this small, and soon to be, chaotic deck. I draw my curved dirk, Throatslitter, embracing the cold ivory hilt. I carry many weapons but this is my favorite and most used. In my other hand is my battle sickle, sharp and hissing with anticipation as I flick it.

 

I see The Six spread across the starboard side of the ship. They appear calm while the men around them drip sweat. I study the pirate ship now looming before us, and plant my feet directly opposite where their crew is extending a gangplank. Our sailors move aside, most relieved to let me through.

 

The boats thud together and there is a cry from the other side. Someone has taken command, as half a dozen men throw grappling irons with ropes and swing across. A pirate scrambles along the gangplank, screaming an indistinguishable war cry. It stops abruptly as he blinks and stares up at me blocking his path to glory and plunder.

 

“Long way from home, yeh black devil,” he shouts, trying to sound defiant, but I detect a quiver in his voice. “Come all this way fer one final swim?”

 

I stare back, trying for impassive, and he blinks several times. Everyone watches as he swings his sword in a skewed arc, and I brush it aside with Throatslitter before detaching his neck with my sickle. His head rolls down and I hear it plop into the ocean. Blood fountains from his severed neck but, curiously, his body remains erect. I raise my right leg in a side swing kick and send it crashing down. As my foot returns to the narrow plank, I step forward … and the battle mist descends.

 

It is always this way. Once the fighting commences, my mind detaches. My movements are deeply ingrained from decades of relentless training and I need only focus on the techniques of my adversary.

 

I plow my way through a morass of fighting men, barely distinguishing friend from foe. But most of the pirates have boarded our ship and I return to fight aboard the Argosy. Then two members of The Six flank me and we become an organized wedge swelled by a grateful crew. The remaining pirates retreat to their ship and our men swarm across. I follow, but my battle fury has subsided and my interest is only to minimalize casualties on our side. Blood congeals on my clothes and skin. Not mine, I think, but cannot be sure.

 

I have seen the revenge meted upon the vanquished aggressors in countless battles. Men once cowering lash out at their routed attackers with extreme violence. Bones are broken, limbs slashed, and I turn from the carnage. Bodies are thrown overboard. Only the cook is spared and roughly dragged back to our ship. He had better not burn any food.

 

I lean against the railing near the pirate ship’s bow hearing the occasional clash of steel mingle with curses and pleas that gradually subside. The sun is high in the sky and, as I wipe my face on my sleeve, I sense danger. Turning, I see the contorted face of the first man I had shot, the one who had brayed for blood. His huge figure looms over me. The broken shaft of my arrow still protrudes from his shoulder and there is blood around his lips. He holds the other half of the arrow, waving the splintered edge in my face.

 

“Want your fucking arrow back? So sorry I broke it.” When I do not reply, he continues. “Thought one little needle would prick Big Rufus? Snapped it. Now I’m gonna snap your neck, you black devil.”

 

He begins to lunge, but stops when I do not raise my weapons.

 

“It’s over. You lost,” I say, keeping my voice flat. “There’s no one left fighting. Why die needlessly?”

 

He freezes. I suspect few are equal to him in physical stature and even fewer address him without fear.

 

“I’m not worried about dying. Pirating doesn’t offer itself as a long-term profession.”

 

I frown at his use of vocabulary. “You’re an educated man. I can hear it. Why are you doing this?”

 

He stares at me and one eye twitches. “There comes a point, black man, when you kill enough men, take enough women, that–”

 

“Who were you before this? What happened to you?”

The twitching increases and his chest heaves. He is losing control. “I was once an ambitious officer in a huge fucking army, following orders that haunt me every night. I–”

 

“We’ve walked the same path,” I say, now standing to face him. “It doesn’t need to end like this. We–”

 

“It ends this way! It always does.” Spittle foams at the corners of his mouth. “You can’t escape what ­–” He is staring at my eyes, through them, like he has a window into my head. “You’re haunted too. How do you keep…going?”

 

I glance around noting our crew standing and staring. This is absurd as no one moves to intervene. “I have people to live for. I still have a mission.”

 

“A woman?” He wipes spittle from his mouth with his torn sleeve. “She’s probably fucking some other bastard by now.”

 

“She’s dead. But we have sons and they are slaves. I must find and free them.”

 

He nods. “Yeah, makes sense.” Then there is a wave of relentless twitching and his shaggy head shudders. “Fuck ’em though. Fuck ’em all. You die now.”

 

“You don’t sound like you mean it. You want me to kill you.”

 

“I don’t fucking care either way. Look what I’ve become. It’s all that’s left.”

 

He raises a short-shafted axe and the sun catches it. I spin away and my battle sickle rises to block him. I would like to draw my sword to fight such a strong man, but it is long and I know that Throatslitter and the sickle are more effective in close quarters.

 

He advances and shows considerable agility for his size and the fact he is wounded, wielding the axe from hand to hand. When he sees I can repel him, he draws a second axe. I realize we have moved to the center of the ship and men from our crew make way, watching. It is surreal. No one grabs him or shoots him with an arrow. It feels like a final rite.

 

“Last chance,” I say. “It doesn’t have to end like­–”

 

“FUCK YOU!” he screams. “Fuck you for not being devoured, for not giving in, for surviving.”

 

His next swing, with his right hand, is erratic and instead of blocking him with my left, I shift inside and duck, letting the battle sickle in my right hand grab the axe allowing his own momentum to unbalance him. He staggers and I swing a round kick that sends him flying into the ropes that surround the edge of the ship. He doubles over and grunts. Then the tension from his weight on the ropes springs him back toward me. I crouch, the tip of my knife on the wooden deck, and then, with a cry, jump into the air. Throatslitter slashes up under his chin. Bright red blood spurts up to ignite in the harsh sunlight. He twists round and collapses back onto the rope.

 

I step forward and grab his matted hair, wrenching his head up to look at me. His nose is bloody and broken, and his eyes bulge.

 

“Fuck you,” he says, his voice a whisper, and I nod, accepting it as a sign of respect.

 

“Find peace,” I say as I crouch and link my left foot around both his legs. As I rise, I flick him over the side of the boat and watch his body hit the water and disappear.

 

The men cheer, but I have no enthusiasm for the victory. That man could one day be me. One day very soon.

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls Of Galbrieth, and five other Wycaan Master books all released by Tourmaline Books. The link above takes you to the Kindle versions. For all other eReaders, please click here.

Download a #FREE copy of Alon’s latest novel, Kingfisher: Slave to Honor, as publisher gauges interest – http://bit.ly/2sq72DG

 Kingfisher Cover

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Valentine’s Day – Epic Fantasy Style

What made the great authors and world-builders of our time overlook such a special occasion? Was Valentine’s Day not celebrated in Middle Earth? Shannara? Odessiya?  Where does Terry Brooks,  R. A. Salvatore, Christopher Paolini, Robert Jordan and others stand on this?

Perhaps it is not a question of the author’s epic battles for love. Perhaps the characters need to take a bit of responsibility. How would they have gone about it?

Elves: the sophisticated romantics. On this special day, elves would often take their beloved on a romantic walk, deep into the ancient forests. Alone, they would visit a favorite pool, fed by a sparkling waterfall, with a noble white heron keeping watch from a rock nearby. Butterflies of every color would hover over the water.

Each elf would produce a small flute and serenade each other. Then one would draw his (or her) intricately carved bow and shoot into a nearby tree. A shower of fragrant petals would fall around them, settling in their perfectly coiffured hair. The other would produce a carefully wrapped, gluten-free, artisan pizza, magically still warm and with crispy crusts that were calorie-light. They would recite poetry to each other, eat, and then bathe in the pool, coincidently illuminated by a full moon on a cloudless night.

Oh, to be an elf!
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Dwarves: The romantic dwarf is meticulous in her (or his) preparation for Valentine’s Day. The previous day is spent washing, conditioning, and combing their beards. Oh, those curly locks challenge even the most finely made comb.

A dwarf Valentine’s Day is all about the rocks. A conscientious romantic will travel deep into the mines to find the perfect gem and then forge a unique ring and necklace set, never seen before … since last Valentine’s Day.

The morning of Valentine’s Day, one often awakes to see their axe newly sharpened and oiled, the hilt freshly bound with clean leather or copper wire, the shaft gleaming. That night around a roaring fire, with an ox dripping grease into the flames, the dwarves consume tankards of ale and sing deep into the night. The songs, however, are not of mighty battles and bountiful treasures as they are every other night, sung as one mighty chorus. This night the dwarves sing only to their beloved, and the songs are of mighty battles, bountiful treasures, and furtive kisses for the hero (or heroine). The next morning, all you remember through the hangover is hazy and askew. But you still have the ring and necklace, and oh your axe is gleaming and sharp! images-6

Humans: As Valentine’s Day approaches, the scribes of the mighty House of Hallmark are almost out of scrolls, quills, and ink, their arms limp from Carpel Tunnel Syndrome. They don’t complain, few have health coverage, but they have made their money. They bless the Great Goddess of Consumerism, though they will never quite appreciate the theology until the Revelation of the Coming of the Internet. For now, electricity seems fantastical and visions of deluded priests, court jesters, and coders and entrepreneurs.

The gardeners have been preparing all year. Every self-respecting knight requires a bouquet of at least 10 long-stemmed reds to fit over the tip of their lance, which they will offer to a sweet virgin in the admiring crowd. If she accepts the roses, then she replaces them with her silk ’kerchief, piercing it gently over the young knight’s lance tip. Many a young man has, at this point, fallen from his horse in anticipation. The definition of virgin, it should be noted, is pretty relaxed in the world of fantasy.

After the obligatory jousting and archery competitions, the virgins retire to their rooms and surreptitiously peer over their balconies. After slaying dragons and defeating barbarian hordes on the battlefield, the young knights return, and once bathed, shaved and smelling of Old Spice, serenade the young virgins. They toss a twisted vine with grappling hook up to her balcony (many a venture capitalist squire made his fortune investing in the grappling hook industry). The virgin slides down, having practiced for hours how to keep her flowing dress from either ripping, getting dirty, or ending up awkwardly around her head. She lands sidesaddle on the knight’s noble steed.

The rest of the evening: a dinner, movie, and long walk along the moonlit battlefield, gazing together upon the vultures and ravens picking the entrails of the vanquished, have passed from tradition into our everyday rituals.
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Pictorians: The pictorians (read Wycaan Master series for background, but not while on Valentine’s Day date) are very secretive about their romantic rituals. Court anthropologists believe the couple sneak off after the pictorye are asleep, both wielding gleaming axes or thick clubs. Working in perfect synchronicity and without need for verbal communication, they bring down a wild buffalo bull, ripping its flesh with their bare hands and teeth, while feeding each other in a raw, bloody passion. The horns of the bull are carved out and used to toast the night with a dark beer imported from the mythical land of the Four-leafed Clover.

The female pictorian then beats her mate unconscious with the two bull horns, drags him back to their ice homes, and has her way with him, which often includes him skinning the buffalo and cleaning out the hearth, a rare feat for such mighty warriors. They are also expected to provide her with breakfast in bed, the Venti Mocha half-caf still steaming.

 

If, by chance, you are still reading this post, you probably have a pretty good idea why our literary greats chose not to dwell on such rituals as Valentine’s Day. I would elucidate further, but my mate awaits with expectations high, and I have her axe to sharpen, parchment to gather, and, where did I put my lance…

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Happy Valentine’s Day to all.

BREAKING NEWS: Tourmaline Books have announced they are offering At The Walls of Galbrieth for FREE during the month of February though Smashwords (good for all ebook platforms). Feel free to gift it to a young person (or not so young) who might benefit from a story of hope and friendship. 

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, and five other Wycaan Master books all released by Tourmaline Books. The link above takes you to the Kindle versions. For all other eReaders, please click here. More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

The Empowering Stereotypical Female Protagonist

 Two weeks ago, I wrote a blog post about the sappy male hero, the protagonist who is can be brave without being too macho and who is in touch with his values and feelings. The post generated considerable discussion and debate, and since I am in the appreciating mood, thank you for your feedback.

But it also got me thinking about my female protagonists. With well over 70% of readers apparently girls and women, it would seem daft to ignore them. In truth, my inspiration for strong female characters comes from less altruistic motives. I am blessed to have been surrounded with strong women all my life, none more so than Mrs. Elfwriter, who continues after two decades together, to amaze me with her strength, vision and principles. I have come through a tough summer and she has been my rock throughout.

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Yesterday, a dear friend told me that it would have been his and his deceased wife’s 25th wedding anniversary, had she not succumbed to cancer a few years ago. My mind reeled back to her struggle, to the elegance with which she continued, right up to the end, to be a source of strength and inspiration, to her family and friends.

These thoughts are relevant to my female protagonists because I realize that I am creating similar (albeit female) stereotypes of common heroes and heroines. Ilana, Sellia, Mhari, Pyre and Mharina are all brave warriors. Fearsome with bow or sword, they might seek to solve a conflict without resorting to violence (as Seanchai did, to be fair), but nonetheless are not females you would want to pick a bar fight with (not that you are that kind of person, of course).

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When I began this post, a couple of days ago, I had hoped to pat myself on the back for my strong female characters. In Sacrificial Flame there is almost an absence of strong males (unless they are evil antagonists). In Book 5 (sorry for the tease) there emerged two males who are not warrior-types. As I begin writing Book 6, I realize that I have not given them much space in my initial plan. I will address this. Likewise, I have not given thought to the non-warrior, strong female protagonist.

Do any strong female protagonists who are not warrior-type come to mind from your reading of epic fantasy? Is it even compelling to have female who is not beautiful, thin, brave, and wicked with sword or bow? Would love to hear.

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Have a great week. Read something epic!

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, and five other Wycaan Master books all released by Tourmaline Books. The link above takes you to the Kindle versions. For all other eReaders, please click here.

More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

No Blog Post, But An Announcement!

No blog post this week as I have been busy incorporating the (many) suggestions of my fearless (or fearsome) editor. It never ceases to amaze me how perceptive a good editor is, how they can stay focused through 100,000 words, and be able to not only correct grammar or spelling, but follow plot arcs, different character developments, and so much more.

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Here are two great errors that I really should be too embarrassed to share, but hey, we’re all friends here, right? 

1. One of my characters was very sad and wiped the tears from her ears!

2. Seanchai (my protagonist) left his bow and quiver at the summit of a mountain, snowboarded down to join the battle, and when he entered the fray shot several of the enemy with his bow! Clever guy!

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I wrote a while ago a blog post – A Tribute To Editors ­– and I remain just as in awe today.

Along with the edited manuscript I have received a first sketch of the book cover and an ISBN number. June 12 is my fiftieth birthday – I’m negotiating the launch date for this time, but it might be too close.

It’s beginning to get real and I am so excited. As I blogged a while ago: It Never Gets Old.

Finally…(drumroll)…the title of Book 4 is official:

 Sacrificial Flame – Wycaan Master Book 4

Can’t wait to share it with you. Two months to go!

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of GalbriethThe First Decree, and Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book 3 – all released by Tourmaline Books. Shalev is also the author of three social justice-themed novels including Unwanted Heroes. He swears there is a connection. More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter). Hang out with Alon on Google+

 

The Power Of The Bow – repost

Over the three days of November 17 -19, Amazon.com have decided to promote the 2013 Winner of the Eric Hoffer Book Award for YA – At The Walls Of Galbrieth. The novel will be offered FREE in ebook form.

This is a wonderful opportunity for me and I request that, to support my sales rank and me, you download the book and invites your friends to do the same. Feel free to gift it on (Thanksgiving and Hanukkah, anyone?).

To celebrate this and also the milestone of 100 blog posts on elfwriter.com, I wish to offer 10 of my favorite posts over the next three days. I hope you enjoy and, please, take a moment to download for FREE At The Walls Of Galbrieth and spread the word.

Thank you,

Alon

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There is a children’s movie just come out, Brave, with the heroine sporting a bow and arrow. Katnis, from the Hunger Games, was lethal with one. Legolas was extremely handsome even in the midst of a desperate fight for Helm’s Deep and never missed when he let fly.

It seems that a bow and arrow are integral ingredients in fantasy, even when the setting is modern enough for guns and technology. Bows were, of course, around before fantasy. Who can forget Robin Hood in the archery contest splitting his opponent’s arrow, which had pieced the center of the bull’s-eye? Classic.

And then there are the Samurai with their beautiful longbow, the Yumi. They didn’t just shoot it with their distinctive technique, but held a philosophical discipline, kyūjutsu, akin to Tai Chi and other spiritual martial arts.

Even after the bow became outdated as an effective weapon it remained a form of training for its warrior code value. The yumi was also fired from horseback because of its asymmetric shape and this practice evolved into a Shinto ceremony known as yabusame. At the risk of sounding trite, there is a beautiful scene in The Last Samurai, with the yumi being explained and fired.

In the West we have also been drawn to the spiritual values of the bow. Eugen Herrigel’s classic, Zen in the Art of Archery, is still a classic fifty years after he wrote it. My 13-year-old has become obsessed with archery. He made his own bow and learned how to shoot it from a teacher. He takes classes at camp and has spent over a year saving up to buy a ‘real’ bow. When I wrote two scenes in the third Wycaan Master book, he provided me with a lot of excellent and rich information. 

I’m still struggling with why the bow is so captivating. For some reason, I am not questioning the sword in the same way. Use of the sword is elegant, noble and also has numerous philosophies and katot (martial art form), but there is something that sets the bow apart and keeps us coming back for more.

Any ideas? Would love to hear in the comments below.  

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, offered by Amazon.com  for FREE on November 17-19. The sequel, The First Decree, and Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book 3 are all released by Tourmaline Books. More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter). Hang out with Alon on Google+

Oops! Just Killed A Friend

Wow! Killing a friend ain’t easy. You think you’re ready for it. You have planned the dramatic demise, executed to perfection, but when it gets right down to it, it is soooo hard.

And when they are lying there dead, with an arrow though their heart, or an axe wound in their head, you think you can just walk away. But what do you still have to do?

Press the Save button.

Haldir – too noble for our times.

Do you get the irony? Your friend lies dead on the page, their blood still wet, and you are totally responsible for it. Sure you didn’t wield the axe, or aim the bow, but you created this person, this character, this hero.

He trusted you, allowed you to move him from one part of the kingdom to the other. He has seen you put him in a tight jam and always something happens to get him out of it in the nick of time. He never complained.

Except this time he is dead. You killed him and now he glares at you from the computer screen.

Save

Brom – never got over the loss of his dragon.

And you walk around in a daze. What made you do it? Why? For the glory? So that the reader would say: “Wow I never thought he would dare…” And you know you will have to face your writers group next week with this and get flayed. They loyally listened to your manuscript week after week, growing to love your characters, buying into your plot, and now you do this to them!

Save

He hasn’t gone you know, not really. A knock on the door, a guy at the gym with the same tattoo, a person who bumps shoulders on the busy train platform. Your eyes meet fleetingly and you look away, guilty, ashamed. How could you have done that?

You killed a good friend, one who let you create them. And now you are going to expect the other characters in the story to trust you? Beware my friend. You never can be sure just how the next chapter will end.

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I simply could never accept this. Destroyed my childhood innocence and I’m in my 40’s!

Good Writing,

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He has written two fantasy novels and the first reached the Quarter Finals of  the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award as of March 2012. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (@elfwriter).