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

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Interview With An Elf

This post has been sponsored by Tourmaline Books:  Award-winning epic fantasy ebook, At The Walls Of Galbrieth @ $0.99  only until Sunday – http://wp.me/p1Xaeb-fS  – It Was 99 Cents!

Wycaan Master 1 Just Front Cover

INTERVIEW WITH AN ELF

Interviewer: I would like to introduce Chamerak, an elf who appears in At The Walls Of Galbrieth, the first Wycaan Master novel by Alon Shalev.  Welcome, sir, and thank you for agreeing to the interview.

Chamerak: My pleasure. It is an honor to represent my people to receptive humans,

Interviewer: Receptive? Can you explain?

Chamerak: Once, long before you and I were born, a council that had representation from all the four races ruled the land of Odessiya. Eventually, humans broke from this coalition when they were discovered to have large colonies of slaves mining rich lands beyond our boundaries.

Most of those who were slaves then were dwarves, and the dwarves here insisted they stop. Slavery was not tolerated in Odessiya. There were the rich and the poor, to be sure, but every individual, regardless of race, had inherent rights.

Interviewer: What happened?

Chamerak: As well as large colonies of slaves, these humans had built huge armies too. There was a series of battles, culminating in one great battle. That was our most tragic moment.

The elven leaders had tried to broker between the humans and dwarves, though we were clearly on the side of the latter. Still, we had helped to find a diplomatic solution as we had for centuries since the great council had begun.

We spread our leaders too thinly and when the battles joined, our people were massacred. The humans won a decisive battle, the powers of the Emperor and his cronies were revealed. The dwarves, what were left of them, disappeared deep underground, and my people became a slave nation.

Interviewer: Literally slaves?

Chamerak: Yes. Those in the cities lived under total servitude. Others found refuge living in remoter villages, where they paid for their restricted freedom with crushing taxes that prevented them ever moving above the strain of poverty. Humans often came to have sport ­­– there were those who collected our pointed ears as trophies – or take if they wanted food or worse.

Interviewer: And all humans were like this?

Chamerak: Generally, yes. After a few generations, it became normal for them. They knew little else and were indoctrinated from birth to look down on us as an inferior race. But there were a few who were not like that.

In At The Walls Of Galbrieth, you will meet Uncle. He led a band of elves into the great forests, to live as freeborn and help other elves escape. Not long after I joined his band, we captured some humans. They did not fight us, but neither did they cower. We took them prisoners and a strange dynamic happened.

As we interrogated them, they began to ask us questions. At first, we thought it was a ruse to discover our secrets: where we hid, who our leadership was, and things like this. But they were different and we made a discovery that filled us with hope. Uncle, in his wisdom, was the first to realize this. I must admit: I wanted to execute them on the spot for just having round ears. I was young then and my life had been hard, though no different from those around me,

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Interviewer: What did this Uncle discover?

Chamerak: That not all humans were bad. That in the same way they had stereotyped us as stupid, inferior, lazy, unhygienic, etc., we too had stereotyped them as one type of human: violent, power-hungry, racist, you know.

Interviewer: What happened next?

Chamerak: Uncle invited them to join us. We kept them in a separate camp for a long time. But eventually, as trust grew between us, we became one band. Word spread of our mixed group and others sought us out. Other groups formed, including some who were committed to teaching rather than fighting.

Gradually, the old stories were told and there was an awakening of an older conscious. It is, I believe, what brought the Wycaans back into our histories, and what facilitated the coming of the Wycaan Master.

Interviewer: I have heard a lot of rumors about him. What can you tell me about­–

Chamerak: These are early days and it is better not to reveal too much. Wycaans are not just elves, but can be from any race. They can be male or female. You have made assumptions.

Interviewer: My apologies.

Chamerak: Assumptions are dangerous thoughts. They are what brought us to the racist society we live in. But there is hope.

Interviewer: How?

Chamerak: As long as the stories are being told, the narrative is being formed. It will be challenged and evolve and, hopefully, change for the better. It is the power of the books.

Interviewer: Rather fantastical, no?

Chamerak: Epically so.

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, Wycaan Master Book 1 and The First Decree, both released by Tourmaline Books. Ashbar – Book 3 – is due for release in October 2013. 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).

An Unexpected Journey

This weekend, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit – An Unexpected Journey comes out. If you are reading this blog, you have probably been counting down along with the Mayans. I haven’t seen the movie yet, so there are no spoilers, but I am incredibly excited. I can’t wait to see it and have no doubt that I will love it, buy the DVD, change my computer’s wall paper and take my kids to eat breakfast at Denny’s…again!

imgres-2But there is something else that has me so stoked for this movie stands on the threshold of something historic: it is the induction of the next generation of epic fantasy readers. Just as Lord of the Rings ignited my generation’s interest, and Christopher Paolini’s Eragon sentenced my own children to a lifetime of reading and vivid imagination, The Hobbit will take a new, unsuspecting generation on an unexpected journey.

My own journey has been somewhat unexpected. Having written a series of well-received social justice-themed novels, I have been introduced to people who are passionate to see and work for a better world. I treasure the opportunities to meet readers at book signings and author meet ups.

DSCN1387As we approached the launch of At The Walls Of Galbrieth, I sought to define my target audience and had a big surprise. To begin with, there were the 100+ who filled out my survey ­– thank you all – and I began to discover a group of passionate and richly imaginative readership.

But here is what excites me. I am meeting a large number of students and teenagers who are die-hard readers of epic fantasy. They eloquently share their love for the creation of a new world, their desire to see everyday folk transform into heroes, and to believe in universal principles such as freedom, good over evil, and the value of friendship.

My social justice-themed novels all contain a common thread: an everyday person goes through a transformational experience which empowers them to pursue justice. Swap the multinational corporation for an evil Emperor, replace the use of social protest with a special bow and arrow, and we have similar themes.

My point is that epic fantasy creeps up on you. This weekend many ingenuous children, teenagers, and parents, are going to see a hyped-up movie and experience a transformation. They may not start yielding a sword and slaying dragons, but they just might embark on an unexpected journey of reading and enter into a world that drives our imagination and defines our social values…

All because in the words of a great wizard: “Hobbits really are amazing creatures.”

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Alon Shalev is the author of At The Walls of Galbrieth, Book 1 of The Wyccan Master series, which reached the Quarter Finals of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2012, released by Tourmaline Books. The First Decree, the sequel is due out in early 2013. Shalev is also the author of three social justice-themed novels: Unwanted Heroes, The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

Seeking The Higher Concept

J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings set the bar. Everything since has been compared to this masterpiece. I have heard interviews with Terry Brooks and Christopher Paolini where each has had to deal with the comparisons.

Neither seemed particularly happy with the need to defend or compare their works. Each agree that Lord of the Rings (LOTR) stands on the pinnacle of fantasy and will for many years,

This leaves the rest of us wannabe fantasy authors with a dilemma. While my own Alliance series has its own specific aspects, it is inevitably compared to LOTHR. When I introduced my elves to my writer’s group, it is Legalos who comes to mind.

I've never survived a mighty battle with every hair still in place.

It is not only Tolkien of course. My antagonist is the Emperor and immediately someone compared him to Star Wars’ Palpatine, and his right hand man to Darth Vader (even without the mask and asthma).

I recently began to meet with an agent who is coaching me to prepare the first Alliance book to market. When I offered my pitch, he immediately asked what is my higher concept? He knows of Tolkien, Brooks, Salvatore and Paolini: what differentiates Shalev from these masters?

I admit to being stuck. I am reading John Locke’s How I Sold 1 Million Ebooks in 5 Months book and he admits it is much harder to change a book already written to hook your target audience than to begin a novel with the specific demands of your target audience in mind. This is doubly hard for me as I have already written two books in the series and have the third mapped out.

Every time I, or anyone helping me, have an idea, I feel resistant. I have created my world, my characters, my conflict…but I cannot explain its unique or higher concept.  Reluctant hero must learn his magic from a master and overcome the all-powerful evil dude. Sound familiar? There are many ways to make an omelet, many variations of vegetables, spices and cheeses, but all omelets involve eggs.

Need to crack a few eggs!

When someone has already used organic, cage-free, grade A eggs, how do you change the recipe? How do you find a higher concept? Any ideas?

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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 will enter the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award in January 2012. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#elfwriter).