The Futhark Chronicles Book Three: Beneath the Mountain
One half-elf warrior and his desperate allies against hell unleashed.
Cage Stone has helped King Jonared reclaim his throne . But the race for survival won’t be won by swords and, unknown to Cage, there is much about the history of Futhark that he doesn’t understand. A history the enemy will use to destroy Cage and everything he loves.
Length: Full Novel
Word Count: 88,201
Available formats: PDF, RTF, Epub, HTML, Mobipocket (.prc)
They walked quietly back toward the fortress. Cage still acted distracted as he had most of the evening. Sabelline berated herself for dwelling on their personal relationship when so many other problems begged their concern.
Cage spoke with sudden thought, but his voice didn’t shatter the night’s silence as another’s might. Though deep and manly, his musical speech fit as part of nature’s song the same as the night birds and winter’s breeze. “Every instinct I have warns me the history of Futhark provides a key to defeating the demons. We must find out about the old ones and what they did with their magic.”
Sabelline had heard the doubt in Jonared’s patience, but the king didn’t know his brother as well as she did. The king hadn’t survived hell by following Cage’s gut feelings as she had. She would trust him now. “I’ll help Tamarin search.”
She stopped him with a touch on his arm. They stood in the open, the moon half full and throwing a silver illumination on the trampled grass. “Cage, you seldom speak of it, but I know you communicate somehow with the rocks, the mountain, whatever. If as you say, the fortress was built on a place of magic created by these ancients, perhaps you could discover things Tamarin and I would overlook.”
He wore his elf look. “I’ll try. Tomorrow after the noon meal we’ll walk the deep areas together.”
Cage tensed of a sudden and stared toward the darkened stables. Sabell looked over her shoulder in the same direction and saw only the large building looming black and silent behind her. He pushed her behind him, and her heart took off at a gallop. She gathered her power to her, wondering what kind of demon might have escaped the guarded perimeter.
Cage freed his sword, the hiss of metal on leather loud in the still, cold night. Sabell strained to see, to hear, and to be ready. With a quiet curse, Cage slammed into her and knocked her to the ground. He gasped as they impacted the frozen lawn.
His breath brushed her hair in harsh, uneven breaths, and she knew he was hurt. She lifted her hands to his shoulders and touched hot stickiness.
“Cage?” What invisible enemy had struck him down? She tried to wiggle from beneath his slack weight but even a tiny movement elicited a groan. “What is it, Cage?”
She wanted to unleash her healing magic, but she couldn’t expend her energy and leave them unprotected from whatever hell spawn came at them.
“No demon,” Cage panted out. “Ambush.”
She touched his shoulders again and this time brushed against an arrow shaft buried in his back below his right shoulder blade. He cried out. “Cage, I need to move you so I can tend this.”
“Don’t move. I don’t know if they’re gone.”
She understood then. Despite his wound he lay still not from weakness or pain but to protect her with his body. “Damn you, Cage, slide off of me.”
But her Marshal held to his stubbornness even when felled. The silent attack would have drawn no attention from the guards on the king’s grounds or those standing watch over the demons. A clever mind had selected the perfect spot to ambush them.
She carefully felt for the arrow shaft again. Warm blood seeped from around it. A lot of blood. They couldn’t wait. She concentrated her power into a small ball and threw it into the air. It ignited at her wish.
Cage’s chest pressed into hers, his breathing shallow and labored. “Elderberry.”
His words were a bit slurred, but she feared she’d heard him correctly. “What? What did you say?”
“Careful not to touch it. Elderberry … on the arrow.”
Horror burst in her chest. Cyanide, a deadly poison, was found in the leaves and other juices of the elderberry. Even the berries could kill if consumed before ripening. Someone had not only shot her Marshal but poisoned him as well.
* * * *
Each breath sent a searing pain through Cage’s ribs and chest. Sabell slithered out from under him, though he tried to hold her there. Control had deserted his right hand and arm.
The arrow sat deep in his muscles, but his lungs worked fine. His strength flowed from him with the blood running in thick, sticky rivulets down his side, his back and even around his neck. His vision darkened for a moment when Sabelline worked her way free and lowered him to the ground.
“Help is coming, Cage. I need Tamarin to help me treat the poison. Do you know what I should use? I don’t want to hurt you like I did with the lavender.”
She spoke too rapidly, her voice high and tight with panic. His own fear grew when she knelt beside him. He listened for the whoosh of another arrow slicing through the dark. The pungent odor of the horse stable covered any scent of human presence.
Footfalls of running men vibrated in the ground beneath his cheek. They came from the castle and the fortress, trying for stealth, but he heard the crunching of the dried grass under their boots. He dug the fingers on his left hand into the brown, fertile dirt. The vegetation slept for protection against the coming cold, but it lived still. Its roots burrowed deep and strong. Beneath the rich dirt, two heights of men below, lay the stone skeleton of Futhark. He pushed his fingers in deeper and let the heart of the land distract him from the pain.
Sabelline shouted a greeting to the approaching men, her words babble in the background of Futhark’s simple language. Men scattered in search of the shooter. Someone ran toward the Keeper’s fortress and another toward the castle. The land didn’t care. The passing of men didn’t damage the grass, and the rocks didn’t even notice them.
Cage’s body weakened, but his pain intensified. He sought the serenity of the rocks. Sabell touched his shoulder, her magic fluttering through him and easing the pain. But not enough that he wanted to forsake the comfort of the land and speak with humans.
Fissures scored the solid mass of stone and left it less stable than it should be. The forces used to lift in from the abysmal depths of the ocean had fractured and hurt it. Gold, silver, nickel and raw jewels lay in ribbons of brilliance. Some were harder than the rock surrounding them and some softer. They’d been there so long they flowed like an underground stream though the current carried them only the width of a finger each year as measured by man.
More footsteps approached, the strong stealthy stride of Bachus, Cicely’s light patter and behind them, the uneven stomping of Tamarin. They came to save him. Some because they knew they needed him, and some because they cared about him.
Sabelline cared for him and perhaps loved him as truly as she claimed. Anadalune, Berton, Kristall and even Jonared cared for him. And they all needed him.
Cage let go of the dirt and gasped at his new connection to his pain.
“Bring me some light,” Sabell ordered.
“Not until we’re sure there are no more arrows waiting for us,” Bachus said.
“There are no more.”
Darrellon was the only one Cage hadn’t heard approach. Did this mean Valans could sneak up on them?
Light flared from somewhere, the flickering uneven illumination of a torch.
“Cage bleeds to death,” Darrellon said.
If it weren’t true, Cage would have smiled at the emotion in the elf’s voice. Darrellon was learning to feel in the human way. Perhaps it had once been the elf way also.
“I know.” There were tears in Sabelline’s voice. “But I’m not sure what to do about the poison.”
“Poison?” Darrellon and Tamarin asked at the same time.
“Cage told me the arrow was tipped with elderberry juice, cyanide.” Sabelline choked on the last word.
“Poison? Elderberry?” Darrellon asked.
“We know of nothing to treat that,” Cicely said softly but not quietly enough to hide her horror.
“Stop the bleeding,” Darrellon ordered.
And he was right. Cage’s hearing and sight faded as his spirit flowed out to join Futhark’s soil. Sabelline laid her hands on him, and her magic shot into him. Alertness returned and pulled his spirit back into his body. Tamarin added her touch, her gnarled hands resting lightly on his hair. Cicely’s hands feathered across his lower back and then settled on his backbone. Their magic joined Sabelline’s and strength poured into him, but it was like water dumped into a broken urn.
Darrellon touched his back lightly for a moment and then moved to the arrow. He pulled it out with a smooth perfect motion that tore nothing new but strafed across mangled nerves.
Cage cried out, but the magic of the Keepers throttled his speech as efficiently as a garrote. Would they kill him trying to save him?