Lily Ruth Publishing
Lily Ruth Publishing
Quest of the Swords: Swords of Blood is an action/adventure fantasy for young adult readers.
In a land torn apart by hatred, in a time of war and broken loyalties, can sworn enemies, determined to kill one another, find the love it will take to break an evil curse and free their people?
Fueled by the magic of a wicked curse, hatred and vengeance boils between the Claver and Finin clans. When seventeen-year-old Stormi Claver is captured by Rylan, the rogue Finin prince, she fears her death is near. Her fear worsens when she learns he is taking her to the Temple of the Swords – home of the evil Goddess that cursed their clans; a place where no Claver has ever left alive.
Stormi knows her brother, Gideon, pursues her rescue, but her captor continues to evade him. While the desire to kill on another burns strong in both Stormi and Rylan, they find themselves working together toward a common goal – to retrieve their clan swords from the temple and break the curse that is devastating their people.
Gideon is forced to abandon Stormi’s rescue when he learns the Finins are plotting a war against the Claver’s homeland of Malinna.
With war at hand and the curse consuming their clans, Stormi and Rylan must battle friend and foe to defeat the curse while Gideon, aided by a mysterious, dark ally, raises an army to battle the blood-thirsty Finin forces that have set out to annihilate the Claver clan.
Through trial and pain, love and war, “Quest of the Swords: Swords of Blood” tells of the triumph of good over evil in the fantasy land of Thylum.
Chapter One: Unwelcomed Guests
Alone and unprotected, the two women worked. The older woman wove patterns on a loom, while the younger one, her seventeen-year-old daughter, stirred stew in a large cast-iron pot.
They worked in complete silence, each one absorbed in her own task, unaware of the deadly enemy that lurked not ten yards away. Just inside the tree line, hidden among the ferns and tall summer grass, band of renegades looked on, waiting for their signal to strike.
“Stormi, take the stew off the fire now,” the older woman instructed, breaking the thick silence.
She glanced up from her work, long strands of silver-streaked hair falling across her eyes, but her calloused fingers continued to move in rhythm.
“Yes, mama,” Stormi replied. She cooked over an open fire in the yard, because the blistering weather made it too hot for cooking indoors today.
The contents of the heavy pot sloshed as she wrestled it away from the flames. She danced around the spilling contents, careful not to let the water touch her sandaled feet.
“Mama, should I call for Gideon?” she asked, referring to her older brother.
Mama didn't answer. She sat upright, her spine straight and her small frame tensed. A hush fell over them, as if the earth had drawn a breath and held it, waiting.
Stormi scanned the trees with a worried gaze, her muddy-brown curls twisting in the wind. She heard nothing. The wood was still and eerie: even the familiar sounds of birds chirping and leaves rustling were abandoned to the heavy, lingering silence. Like an icy wave, it struck her. She knew why her mother had become so rigid. Silence in the woods was always like a warning shout.
“Mama, what should we do?” Stormi whispered, stricken with fear.
All of their weapons, except a small kitchen knife and a short sword, were with Gideon. He needed them to hunt for food, and he had been gone since early that morning. Now some wild animal or hostile clan was upon them, and they were defenseless.
A twig snapped close by, the sound shattering the uneasy stillness.
“Scream, Stormi,” her mother hissed. “Scream and run for the house.”
Mama drew the short sword and turned as six men stepped out into the clearing. Stormi's voice caught in her throat. The men advanced into the clearing step by step, all but one watching their leader and waiting for his cue.
They were of a clan Stormi knew well – clan Finin. Fiercer than any northern nomads, the Finins were a brutal enemy. Sworn by a curse to kill out all of Stormi’s kind, their presence here could only mean certain death for the two women.
“Any Clavers here?” the leader asked. He was a young man, about twenty-five years of age, and rugged.
His tone was dangerous. Tall and stout, his muscles bulged underneath his regal attire. Had the situation been less dire, Stormi would have loved to gaze upon this well-built and handsome man. He was not scarred like a man who had seen much war, yet his demeanor was hostile, reminding her of her need to escape him.
Stormi found her voice. It tore from her throat in an awkward shriek of terror.
“Gideon!” she cried out, silently praying her brother could hear her.
Then she turned and fled toward the cottage. If she and her mother could get inside, they could bar the door and escape through the secret passage in the cellar. Despite her fear, she hesitated and looked back. Her mother wasn’t coming.
Her mother couldn’t fight off six well-armed men even with the sword.
Why doesn’t she try to run?
“Go, Stormi,” Mama commanded.
Stormi was frozen where she stood between the safety of the cottage and her mother. The cottage, nestled on the edge of the woods and the grassy meadow beyond, was only steps away. Its wooden walls bore the scars of past attacks – battered door frames, patched glass windows, and even a charred section of the porch where a Vortegarian band had tried to set the house on fire – yet the house represented safety.
Stormi's gaze lingered on the determined, authoritative woman she was leaving behind. She suddenly appeared fearless, uninhibited by her long years of toil. There was still one last fight in her. Dark, steely eyes pierced the approaching foe.
The men moved with great speed as they closed in on her mother. The leader gave no signal apart from his approach, and his men stayed well behind him as they waited to see what he would do.
“Tie the girl up,” he ordered, “and disarm the old woman.”
His men moved in ready to obey, all except one.
The one man drew his sword and, knowing his advantage of strength, quickly disarmed Stormi’s mother with the hilt of his blade. Then he buried his sword in her stomach before the leader of the group could even raise a hand in protest.
Stormi’s mother fell to her knees, her eyes wide with shock and pain as she slid off the blade.
“No!” Stormi cried out in sudden agony.
Blinded by tears that rose unbidden in her eyes, she raced back toward her mother as the rogue men gathered round her. The man who had stabbed her mother caught Stormi by the waist with one arm and held her back. She was captured, but she didn’t care.
“Foolish little girl,” he hissed in her ear.
“No, let me go,” Stormi cried. “Please…mama, no…don’t die, mama…”
Her words quickly became a string of groans and pleadings as she lost sense of what was happening and what she was saying.
The Finin leader wasn’t impressed.
“Stop that,” he ordered harshly.
But Stormi couldn’t stop. Her mother lay on the ground just a few feet away from her, dying. She continued to cry and tried to pull away from her captor. It took only a moment to anger the man. He landed his hand across her face.
“I told you: stop, Claver!” he said. “You are of the blood?”
What? Why does he care if I'm a Claver?
The grief numbed her mind and distorted her thoughts. Every moment of silence that ticked by infuriated the man.
“Answer me, girl,” he growled.
Stormi couldn’t think of any reason to lie. Yes, she was of the Claver bloodline – one of the last pure blood descendants. Her family line had been all but blotted out by the viscous Finins, bound to destruction by an ancient curse.
“Yes, I’m a Claver,” she answered, trying to steady herself. “Please, sir, let me go to my mother.”
She stopped squirming. The man was not much taller than she, which forced Stormi to look him straight in the eyes with her imploring, helpless stare.
“For a moment,” he replied, releasing her.
She rushed to her dying mother and fell to her knees beside her.
“Mama,” she whimpered, laying her head on her mother’s chest. “Don’t leave me, mama.”
“Quiet,” her mother said. “Be strong and make me proud.”
Stormi continued to cry on her mother’s chest, leaving tear stains on her clothes. Blood stained the young girl's hair, and smeared across her face. Her mother sized up the Finins. She even stared her murderer in the eye. Then she focused on the leader of their group.
“She is a Claver and so am I. Kill us and be done with it.”
The leader knelt beside her and put a hand on Stormi’s dark curls.
“She is useful to me, old woman.”
He pried Stormi away from her mother by her hair and handed her off to his men. Stormi could only groan in protest as they bound her hands and feet and tossed her, stomach down, onto a horse.
“With her blood, I will reclaim the legendary swords. But don’t worry; I’ll take good care of her.”
A cruel round of laughter went up from his men.
“Now,” the man continued, pulling a small knife out of his sleeve. “You’re suffering from that wound. I could end it quickly.”
Stormi struggled against the ropes binding her.
“No!” she cried helplessly. “Please, no!”
Her mother shook her head calmly.
“My daughter is the one suffering,” she said. “Take her so she will not see me die. It is already so near.”
The man nodded. He looked down at the woman with the smallest hint of pity and put the knife away.
“Die well,” he said, so that only she could hear. Then he commanded his men, “Let’s go.”
“Mama?” Gideon Claver knelt beside his mother. “Mama, look at me. What happened?”
Her eyelids moved and then parted just a little. Gideon could barely see the hazel orbs underneath.
“Mama, look at me.”
“Gideon?” she asked weakly.
“I’m right here.”
He grasped her cold hands in his so she could feel his presence.
“Who did this to you?” he demanded.
“Well, you’re safe now. I’m going to clean the wound. You just lay quiet and try to stay awake.”
He took the shirt off his back and pressed it against the deep gash in her middle. She had lost so much blood already.
“It’s too late, Gideon,” she whispered. “Did you bring home meat?”
The question seemed odd at such a time as this, but he answered dutifully. “Yes. I brought a large buck down with father’s old bow.”
“Have you cleaned and salted the meat?” she wanted to know.
How can she think of that now? Gideon wondered. Out loud he said, “Yes, mama.”
“Good. You’ll need it for your journey.”
“What journey, Mama?” he asked. His words sounded as words of a small child, though he was no child. A man of twenty-one years, he shouldn’t feel this afraid.
“They’ve taken Stormi.”
Gideon’s head snapped back up so that his eyes met his mother's stern gaze. “Which way did they go?”
“Away to Vortigern, the land of the swords.”
“They’ll kill her.”
“You must stop them.” She gripped his bare arm with her remaining strength. Her eyes searched his anxiously, needing to know before death took her that he would bring his sister back safe.
Gideon touched his free hand to his mother’s face. “I will. Don't worry; I will, but first I must take care of you. Wait here while I go in the house. I’ll get wine and an iron, and I’ll have the wound clean in no time.”
“Quiet now, son. It’s too late for me, and if you do not leave now, it will be too late for Stormi, as well.”
Her voice was raspy. She was slipping away, and all he could do was watch. He wrapped her up in his burly arms and held her as the life left her body. He sensed the moment she died and he buried his face in her shoulder so he wouldn’t have to see. He knew all the same, as her spirit slipped into the afterworld, for he felt a part of himself die, too.
Gently, he laid her body down and closed her eyes. Then he sat back, grappling with the overwhelming pain.
How dare the Finins do this to his mother – to him!
Never had he expected an attack during the day. He cursed himself silently.
Why did I not leave better weapons here with them?
As he agonized over his carelessness, he hauled himself to his feet, cursing the Finins, the gods, and the front door, which hung crooked and was difficult to open. It scraped across the wooden porch as Gideon yanked it open. He had promised his mother he would fix it weeks ago.
As he stumbled inside their two room cottage to retrieved a shovel, he broke down and slumped to the floor, overtaken by his grief.
I can't, he thought. I can't bury her.
But he knew he must. What he couldn't do was leave her out in the open for wild animals to drag away and devour at their leisure, as though she were nothing more than an easy meal. She must be laid to rest, buried beneath the ground of her home. He must bury her beside his father, the man she would have followed to the grave had she not had two children to care for.
Gideon found the shovel and made his way back outside, only to be gripped by agonizing grief again as he viewed her still, ghostly body.
He could not look at her without coming to tears as he broke the ground beneath a large oak with his spade. He took all of his grief, pain, and anger out on the ground. Again and again he plunged the spade, welcoming the blisters that formed on his hands and the aching of muscles as he strained to dig the grave.
He dug the grave deep, never once breaking from his strenuous work. The sun rose high in the sky, beating warm rays down on his bare chest and arms. The heat weighed on him, his breath came in labored gasps, but he finished his work without complaint.
When the hole was finished, he reached out for his mother’s stiffening frame, lifting her up only to lower her into the ground. He wept over her body for a long time before climbing out of the grave.
Now came the hardest part of all. It was time to let go and cover her with the dirt. So soon it came. Gideon felt his knees go weak at the thought.
How had his mother managed to bury his father all those years ago? Could he be as strong as her now?
But what about Stormi?
He would lose her, too, if he didn’t go quickly. Already the Finins were making their escape. There wasn't a moment to spare if he hoped to catch up, and before he could leave, he had to cover the hole that cradled his dead mother.
Reason won out in his grief-muddled mind. He scooped a shovel full of fresh-turned soil onto his spade and tipped it into the grave. Again he did this, and then again, not daring to look as the dirt covered her lifeless body.
Someone would pay for this. When he found them, they would pay. They’d regret crossing him – before they died whatever slow, painful death he imagined. Then he would come home, and Stormi with him. They would grieve their mother together in the traditional fashion. Things would never be the same again, but life would go on.
He used a large stone to mark the head of the grave, entered his home one last time to gather supplies, to dress, and to arm himself.
There was no peace for him, even after his mother was properly buried beneath the soil of her homeland. Even imagining her happiness in being reunited with his father brought him no relief. She was lost to him. Never could he see her smile again, or feel her steady hand on his shoulder when she alone knew he felt fear.
He mounted his horse, prepared to honor her last request. The beast was a thick animal, bred for mountainous terrain. He was stout as could be, but worthless in a race.
As Gideon rode away, he took one last look back. He wondered if he would ever see his home again. Their humble dwelling built on the grassy meadow where he and Stormi had played as children, and the woods where his father had taught him to use a bow, lay in view. It was hard to leave. The fresh turned dirt of his mother’s grave was the last thing he saw as he turned his horse and rode away.