Seven Stars of Midnight
Book Excerpt by R.E. Joyce
Seven Starts of Midnight is an epic fantasy thriller centered on a world at the brink of darkness. The forces of evil, festering for centuries, erupt and seven heroes are called to save the world and rebuild the goodness of the earth.
Gathered together from all parts of the known world, our heroes lay their individual desires aside to become part of the adventure and by doing so build something new and worthy of praise.
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THOSE OF THE ARROWS
The Journey Begun
“Each moment of life is experienced.
The level of conscious involvement will determine
the lasting effect of the particular moment.“
Joabh moved effortlessly through the intricate dance of the Tonla. Her long black hair braided and tied down with a black silk strap. Her blouse, jacket and leggings made of soft deerskin died black, absorbed the moonlight and helped her blend into the night. Dull black boots made of sturdier leather moved silently though the intricate patterns. Standing five foot four inches, her slender body belied the strength and agility she possessed. She used all her skill to keep even the muscles of her face still and impassive as her full being concentrated on the dance. Feeling every movement of her body, she became her art. She was at peace.
After the night of peace and reflection, Joabh walked silently through the forest west of the mountain clearing under the morning star. It had been many days and nights since she first felt the dread of her journey holding down her spirit.
Joabh thought back to the storm whipped night the high priest of Tolus came to her with his impossible mission. Having taken solemn vows to the teachings of Tolus, Joabh would obey any command given by the high priest. Having studied under his gentile tutelage, she would have given her life to follow him. And now he asked her to forsake her vows and return to the world. He asked her to give up her peace and find those to help save the eroding tranquility of the world of Toling.
These painful memories had stolen Joabh’s peace during her journey across the Misting Mountains and into this first valley of the west. The Tonla had put her back in focus with the whole of her life, and in reflection she accepted her task. Joabh accepted the loss of the priesthood to the god Tolus since by accepting the mission she gave up her right to return from the unholy world she entered.
As Joabh worked her way down the rocky slopes of the Misting Mountain forests, she set her mind to the task of her journey. In this frame of concentration she nearly missed the warning signs.
Coming to an immediate stop she crouched and slowly reached within her jacket for her krilow. Although a ceremonial knife, the krilow was a strong and well-forged weapon. With this and her skills, Joabh was ready for whatever danger that approached her.
Silently staring up she beheld the jet-black cat with piercing green eyes. Joabh thought about the ease with which the beast had approached her, yet it too stood stone still watching her. Its muscles taught and prepared for battle, the cat stood silently and seemed to await her decision.
“So, devil of the mountain, you have come to test your prowess on me. You will soon find out that you are not superior to all humans.” Joabh spoke softly, content on watching and feeling the cat’s reaction to her presence.
The beautiful animal seemed to listen to her words. She straightened her stance and placed the krilow back in its carved bamboo casing. The cat would not attack. This she felt rather than knew. “I will let you travel your road of destiny cat. You and I will not test our strength because we both have our quests to accomplish.“
Moving slowly, but without fear, Joabh turned and walked on towards the west. She felt the cat’s presence on the trail above her path and knew he followed at a comfortable distance.
Joabh, upon reaching a glade looked around for signs of other travelers. The glade seemed empty, but indications of some presence within the recent past brought Joabh to attention. A swift stream bounded the glade to the south and the mountain cliff crowded it to the north. Her only path was to cross the glade and continue down through the forest on the other side. With caution she began to cross the open area.
The grass, knee high, soft and browning in the autumn sunlight, belied a peacefulness that Joabh knew did not exist this day. Something was very wrong. Halfway across, the serpents lifted high out of the grass showing themselves and their evil intentions. One giant cobra would be no problem for Joabh; two would prove difficult. Four brought the reality of death to the traveler from Toling.
Quickly stepping back, Joabh drew her krilow and dispatched the cobra directly behind her. This gave her a moment to think and prepare. The other three, seeing her swift movements, approached with greater caution. She knew they would strike together. Eyeing the three she chose the one in front, larger than the others, to be the master cobra. The one on her left, the youngest, may lack experience and skill. The one on her right showed no signs of weakness.
The snakes were less than ten feet from her when she sensed the presence of another in the glade. As if by reflex she knew what her actions would be. Rolling to her left she dispatched the younger snake before the others reacted. With the same movement she let her krilow fly striking the master cobra in mid strike. Her life was now in the hands of another. Glancing to her right, she saw the black streak of the big cat deftly snatching the cobra from the air. Its teeth sank into the neck of the snake and with a quick flick of its head the snake fell limp and lifeless in its jaw.
They stood close, their eyes locked and focused on the inner soul of the other. Joabh knew that two travelers from separate worlds were now joined together for this journey.
“I see, cat, that we are to become friends. You will join me in my quest.” She felt strange talking to this animal and yet knew he understood. Knew he would follow her and aid her in her journey. It felt good to have such a companion. “I will call you Tibor, lord of the great cats. The name is befitting your prowess. I am Joabh. If we are to travel together then let us go in a manner suiting us both.“
With this Joabh turned and began to run swiftly across the remainder of the glade. She knew she could maintain this pace through the day and far into the night. In fact it felt good to stretch out her muscles and push the limits of her endurance. She also knew Tibor would follow.
THOSE OF THE SWORD
The cold mist drifted across the fallow fields as Ardon placed the last of the farm tools against the barn wall. The work done and the farm ready for its winter rest, Ardon stood tall and sturdy from the years of farming. Handsome of face and well tanned by the sun, Ardon had grown into a man. He had maintained a peaceful demeanor for many years but inside a yearning for something he could not identify grew.
As Ardon looked across the field, he felt as if he were part of another time and place. His grandfather’s tales of adventure and the mysteries surrounding Ardon’s family had made his decision – that, and the old man’s warning of trouble in the kingdom. The passing of his beloved mother in the early spring made the decision easy. Without looking back, Ardon lead the mule with his provisions and walked out of the west gate following the morning stars on their journey across the sky. Ardon thought once again of his last encounter with the old man.
The Old Man
He was peculiar and yet very familiar. A man no one knew and yet he seemed to have been around forever. His quiet almost peaceful manners gave you an immediate sense of well being. He had approached the house through the fields from the north. Not many travelers came from there due to the rise in trolls and ogres in the foothills of the Crystal Mountains. The people of the Crystal Valley stayed away from the mountains and did not like to meet strangers who would travel in such a country.
He approached the cottage porch, without a word, drew up a chair and sat down to fill his pipe without caution – even the dogs remained quiet and calm. “Ardon, you knew from the times of childhood dreams that I would come. The destiny of your ancestors lives within you. Now the time has come for you to act.”
Ardon walked into the cottage, knowing the old man would follow as he chose. He fixed the evening meal of rabbit stew and biscuits for two. He waited quietly for the old man to approach and begin his story. He felt again the same excitement nestled in his grandfather’s lap listening to the tales of his family’s great deeds in the time of the dragon lords at the beginning of time. The old man ate in silence and lighting his pipe seemed to fall asleep, disinterested in Ardon’s curiosity. The memories of the stories played through Ardon’s head.
In the beginning, the dragon lords ruled the land from the great Western Sea to the distant Eastern Oceans. They were merciless and cruel, using the people for both slaves and food. Then there came a man who refused to work for the lords and banded together with others running off to the Crystal Mountains. There they began to build a new life and a new freedom. It was many years before the dragon lords found out about this new people and many more before they chose to do anything about them. Then in the time of Ardon’s great-great-great-grandfather the dragons came. The mountain homes were destroyed and the people scattered. Many were murdered and many more captured and brought back to slavery – the beginning of the Dragonlord Wars. The people of the Crystal Mountains learned to fight for their freedom and the great sword of darkness was forged along with the arrows of midnight.
The old man spoke breaking through Ardon’s wandering thoughts. “Now you know what it is you must do. Find the sword of darkness.”
Reeling as if from a blow, Ardon asked the man to explain what he meant. “You are talking of tales told by old men too feeble to plow the soil. They would spin fables for young children to remember into the long night of sleep. And how did you know my thoughts? Who are you?”
The pipe had been relit and the gray beard drooped as the old man fell back into his apparent slumber.
The ancient dwarves during the Dragonlord Wars had forged the sword of darkness deep in the Crystal Mountains. A giant had carried it into battle and wielded death and destruction the dragon lords had never felt before. There were indeed many other weapons and men in the battle, but never before had anyone stood face to face with a dragon lord and lived, much less defeat the dragon at its own game of destruction. The dragon lords, young and old, perished in battle either by the arrows of midnight or at the hands of the sword of darkness. The giant, a gentle soul, turned from the battle and moved off to the west never to be seen again. It is said that far to the west in the Valley of the Winds a mountain has grown over the giant and the sword to protect it from the hands of evil.
Again the stare, again the old man spoke. “Seek out this sword; it is again needed by your people. The evil of years past is upon the land again.” At this the old man rose and walked towards the door.
“Wait“, Ardon cried, “How will I know what to do? How will I find this mountain? Why should I believe you and your mystic ways? Who are you?” The old man bowed low and walked out the open door, into the fields and the mists and the mystery of the world beyond the farm.
The Wizard’s Apprentice
As a young lad, Millian played in the dirty alleyways of the Zarmellus market district. His parents, not paupers, still struggled to make a living, and Millian was left for the most part to his own devices. He had always been a conscientious youth, caring for his parents and older brothers and sisters. He would rise early and set out the food and clothing for all his siblings before going about his assigned chores. Then, while other’s played, he would help his father and mother with the business of their market tent. His father would finally and firmly put a stop to his help, pushing the lad outdoors to play with his friends.
Youth ended early for the lad when the king announced the conscription. Every four or five years, the king would gather up boys between six and seven years old to be trained for the court. While announced as an honor, few of the lads ever attained any stature, with most thrown back out into the city streets when they reached the age of twelve.
BelDorian just could not be bothered with the practice and normally gave his charges menial duties to keep them from under foot. The king, however, insisted that BelDorian maintain his staff of young squires and he wandered through the lines uninterested in the proceedings.
Normally he would select his three charges from the last boys left. They would normally prove to be sickly or contain a spirit of rebellion. This day, early in the selection process, his eyes wandered across the quiet face of Millian, and impulse, not his standard demeanor, made BelDorian signal for the boy to be set aside. The presenter looked sharply at BelDorian and Millian’s parent’s wept bitter tears. Millian stood in his quiet stance of acceptance and wondered who the gray old man was.
Millian stood silently by the door to the wizard’s study. His kind and loving parent’s had honed his manners, and his curiosity about life filled his mind quickly, leaving no room for mischief. He looked around the room cluttered with books and bottles and boxes, a fairyland of delight for the boy to behold. BelDorian looked up from a tome on the early history of the elfin kingdoms. Again the curiosity struck him deeply. What was it about this boy?
“What is your name?” The question was meant to be direct and ruff, intending to put this lad into his proper place quickly and regain some level of peace. It came out softly and with great feeling. Who was this boy?
“I am called Millian. I hope we can become good friends, Sir. What are you called?”
BelDorian just stared back at the gentle child. Then the boy asked one more question.
“My parents are sad about my selection,” Millian spoke softly. “May I go tell them how wonderful this place is and how happy I am?”
Damn the dragon lords—a polite youth! Was he going to become a nursemaid in his golden days? BelDorian was just not having a very good day. Fighting dragons would be better than this! “You may speak to your parents the next time we enter the marketplace. Now sit in the corner by the fire and do not disturb me.” BelDorian pointed to a small stool next to the hearth and went back to his studies.
The evening wore on and, as is his custom, BelDorian lost himself in his studies. The midnight stars reached their peak when he closed the tome and stretched his tired muscles. Turning to the fireplace to bank the coals he saw Millian. The boy had sat quietly watching the wizard for many hours and sometime during the night fell asleep leaning against the hearth. The wizard studied the sleeping lad for a long time. Then gently picking him up, he placed him on an old lounging chair and covered him with one of his cloaks. The mysteries of a gentle soul filled his mind and his heart. BelDorian knew something special about Millian would be revealed to him. Going to the cot he covered himself and fell into a restful sleep.
Morning came bright and clear. BelDorian coughed, grumbled and began to awaken his tired old bones. Running for the chamber pot he came to a dead stop. Spinning around and around he looked at his study. Not one book out of place or one piece of dust to be found. Indeed he was not sure if all had been stolen during the night or he had dreamed some enchantment of disappearance. There, by the hearth on the stool, sat Millian gently turning and touching the pages of an ancient text.
Before BelDorian summoned up the proper curses, Millian looked up at the wizard with a fire set deep in his eyes. “This book holds many feelings of power. I cannot read all the words, Sir. Will you help me?”
So that was it! The lad possessed power and BelDorian, at last, would have his apprentice. He would finally be able to turn over the cares of the world to another and travel into the great beyond. His days of peace were finally near at hand.