An imp is a lesser demon but a demon nonetheless. Vastra controls one, or at least he thinks he does. It is a secret which he is prepared to kill to protect. Soon demons will plague the land when the barrier between the worlds becomes sufficiently thin to allow them to cross. Vastra plans to be in control when that happens but first he must find an Eldric pendant in a lost city, guarded by spells of protection. The pendant will help him find a power the Eldric once used, a power that make him the greatest sorcerer ever but his plans go awry when he meets Kaplyn and Lars. Their journey takes them through a nightmare tower and then deep into the bowels of the earth to a cavern haunted by the dead where betrayal could damn them all. A collision of powers occurs, so vast that it rips apart the very fabric separating the worlds, allowing the shade of a dead emperor to cross the divide, thereby becoming Kaplyn’s shaol (guardian spirit), taking him to the very brink of despair.
The prophecy of the Kings
David Burrows has recently released a fantasy trilogy, The Prophecy of the Kings. The work is available on Amazon and other on-line booksellers. The books making up the trilogy are: Legacy of the Eldric, Dragon Rider and Shadow of the Demon. They are published by LULU which is an independent publisher. Books are only printed on demand which is eco-friendly and saves paper.
A dark and sinister tale set in a world periodically ravaged by demon attacks. The people are highly superstitious, garlands and wards protect family homes, and yet, at the time of the tale, attacks are rare and there is peace. Long ago, in a bygone war, the people were saved by the Eldric and their sorcerers. However, soon after the war, the Eldric mysteriously disappeared from the land, leaving the people defenceless against a future threat. Rather than confronting their fears the people have chosen instead to ignore the ever growing signs of danger.
The main character is Kaplyn, a minor prince. Bored with the tedium of court he seeks an adventure, hoping to make his brothers envious. He gets more than he expects when he meets Vastra, a self-proclaimed sorcerer, recklessly ambitious and driven by greed for power. Vastra seeks an Eldric talisman and recruits Kaplyn and another man, Lars, to help him, but he harbours a secret for which he is prepared to kill for. Book one tells of their journey through a perilous land where there are clear signs, for those prepared to see it, that demons are once again seeking souls.
They follow the trail left by the Eldric, unaware they are starting a series of events that will rock the foundations not only of their world but of two others, those occupied by demons and dragons. Their journey takes them through a nightmare tower and then deep into the bowels of the earth to a cavern haunted by the dead where betrayal could damn them all. A collision of powers occurs, so vast that it rips apart the very fabric separating the worlds, allowing the shade of a dead emperor to cross the divide, thereby becoming Kaplyn’s shaol (guardian spirit), taking him to the very brink of despair.
War threatens. Krell tribes amass and in the air grakyn gather. Religious zeal drives Priests of Ryoch and omnipotent warriors fill their ranks. Their shaols are awoken, kindling a sixth sense that gives them awesome fighting skills. Death knights are recruited into Trosgarth’s ranks and sorcerers learn to summon demons.
The beat of war sounds louder across the expanse of time. War is inevitable but who will stand against the enemy for the allies are divided, refusing to believe the growing threat.
A reader (Nina Hutchings) wrote: I loved these books! David has created characters that are totally believable. The story line was well conceived and kept me gripped throughout. Fantasy writing at its very best.
Creepy things. That was all he could think about as he rode beneath the trees; spiders first and foremost, as large as dinner plates, hidden in the canopy’s dark recesses. It did not help that the light was fading, the further he rode the closer the trees seemed to gather around him. Lichen hung from branches like giant webs, caressing his shoulders and leaving moss smears on his cloak. Around him trees swayed in time to the breeze, filling the air with the rustle of leaves. More than once forest creatures bolted at his approach, startling both horse and rider.
Kaplyn cursed himself for entering the wood, but need had driven him. He had to put as much distance as possible between himself and the palace by dawn. He knew the guard would be in pursuit and he had to avoid capture.
A branch snapped. Too late he ducked; something thumped against his shoulder, causing his heart to lurch.
“What the . . .?” was all he could manage before whatever had hit him launched itself from his shoulder onto a nearby branch, then quickly on to another. The clacking of wood striking wood filled the air as branches whipped back and forth in frenzy. Star shied and he fought the reins as she crabbed across the trail.
“Whoa, girl,” he shouted breathlessly. “It’s a squirrel, that’s all.” He caught sight of it streaking through the canopy, pausing to glance back at him, flicking its tail in anger.
He struggled to free his cloak from a swaying branch. Dark hair tumbled into his eyes and he brushed it back with his hand. A fresh scratch stung as he wiped the sweat from his brow with his cuff. Just then, the wind dropped and the branches ceased their creaking.
Kaplyn peered into the shadows growing ever more anxious. It had been folly to enter the wood he realised, his heart beating wildly from his recent shock. Satisfied nothing threatened he urged Star on, but at a slower pace, allowing his eyes time to search the growing puddles of night.
Before he had gone much further, the trees abruptly thinned but his elation that it was the wood’s end was deflated; it was a glade, nothing more. With the rays of the setting sun illuminating the trees, the wood looked encapsulated in glass, timeless like a painting of a fairy realm. Mushroom rings sprang from the soft earth and a scent of fungus filled the air. Grass carpeted the woodland floor and small wildflowers added a splash of colour. A brook bubbled through the glade’s heart and the soft sounds of the water calmed his weary mind.
“What a marvellous place,” he muttered. Realising it was foolhardy travelling further in the growing dark he decided to wait until morning before continuing his journey. Slipping from Star’s back, he rubbed his thighs to restore the circulation. The murmur of the brook drew his attention, making him realise how thirsty he was. Going over to the stream he bent, scooping up a handful of water to drink.
Something shoved him firmly in the back, causing him to topple forward. Suppressing a cry of alarm he managed to catch himself before falling in the brook. Muttering, he turned around. Star regarded him with round, liquid eyes; no doubt aggrieved that she had not been fed yet. He laughed, partly in relief it had been his horse and nothing more sinister.
After filling her feedbag he stacked straw and twigs on some old cloth tinder he carried for the purpose of lighting a fire. Striking a flint against his strike-a-light, a shower of sparks flew towards the small pile of sticks. He blew to encourage a flame and to his satisfaction, one appeared. Encouraged, he tossed on a few sticks. Embers flew into the air and he watched them dance on the breeze. Reaching into his saddlebag, he sought the ham and cheese he had stolen from the kitchens.
Without realising it he was now surrounded by darkness which seemed to have crept from beneath the trees like a living entity. He could no longer see beyond the light cast by the fire and his earlier musings about spiders came back to mind, but then he realised there were far worse things living in the wood; his mind turned to outlaws and even krell. He threw a larger stick onto the fire. The flame flickered, threatening to expire, forcing him to blow once more on the embers. Blinking, he drew back as smoke stung his eyes.
Long ago, he had seen a supposed likeness of a krell in a book, but back then it had seemed comical; a short, gangly creature with long legs and hands too large in proportion to the rest of its body. The skin had been painted grey-green, and the eyes slitted, like a cat’s. Alone in the forest, what had once appeared comical now seemed frightening. True, the krell tribes had been defeated years ago, fleeing to the remotest regions of the land, but there were still supposed sightings, and even rumours of attacks. Blowing on the fire a bigger flame appeared and absent-mindedly he stacked on more wood.
What was he thinking? His thoughts strayed to the previous night when he had stolen away from the palace in the middle of the night, like a common criminal. His motive had been plain: to flee the tedium that being ninth in line to the throne brought with it. How often he had dreamed of escaping the trappings of court, to seek an adventure while he could. Now he was on one he was cowering like a fox before the hounds.
He felt ashamed.
At home he had spent most of his free time hunting in the woods around the palace, but that was in daylight and always in the company of others. Rallen, the head gamekeeper and his closest friend would be furious at him for creeping off. He feared his father’s anger more than the disappointment Rallen would feel that he had not confided in him. Then again Rallen would have been duty bound to tell his father, the King.
What a muddle!
He didn’t intend staying away for long. He would take part in a local fair, and then perhaps visit Hallar his friend whom he had not seen for many years. Returning home with tales of adventure would make his brothers green with envy. A grin spread across his lips and abruptly his fears seemed unfounded. He could do this — and face the consequences!
Lying back, he settled down to sleep. The cooing of wood pigeons calmed his fears while a few feet away Star grazed, tearing at the short grass, the soft sounds helping his mind drift towards sleep. The occasional dry snap of a branch or the rustling of leaves roused him, and often he lifted his head to look around, even though it had grown too dark to see. Eventually, tiredness overcame his fears and he fell into a deep but troubled sleep.
As Kaplyn’s breathing became regular, dreams engulfed him and it seemed as though he was sitting high in a branch looking down on his own sleeping form. The dream seemed unusually real; he could see every detail of himself as his chest rose and fell in slumber.
His hair framed an honest but plain face. He was a young man in his early twenties, well built due to plenty of exercise and a good upbringing. His clothes were expensive but suited his environment; his leather tunic was a practical garment and his long riding boots were made from a soft, supple hide. In truth, living in the palace he wanted for little and for a moment guilt threatened once more. It wasn’t that he was spoilt, he thought, but he needed to escape court life. It was stifling him.
Something caught his attention. An ethereal light appeared at the glade’s edge. A frown furrowed his brow as a shape drifted into view. It was a woman and her robes floated about her as though blown upon a wind from another plane of existence. Her face was perfect and her complexion as pure as alabaster. As her eyes alighted on Kaplyn’s sleeping body a look of sorrow crossed her features.
Kaplyn felt that he could hear her thoughts. My time is too short, she was thinking. And the task too great. Gone are my brothers and sisters, and I alone prevail.
She raised her eyes into the distance as though sensing something from afar. She shook her head as though in dismissal and her frown deepened as she continued circling him.
What help I have, I offer. Remember the Kalanth, and think of us in the future. She bent and traced a rune on Kaplyn’s brow. In his sleep, he stirred and a low moan escaped his lips.
The watching Kaplyn wanted to waken but he could not. A great lethargy stole over him and he fought against it, wanting to watch the beautiful woman a while longer.
Great hardships you will face, that I can see in your future. Strengthen your resolve, for at times that is all you will have.
Kaplyn frowned, wondering what she meant and then abruptly she stood and this time even Kaplyn felt that something was amiss.
Low branches parted and a small creature came into view. The woman sucked in her breath. An imp. One of the lesser demons, but a demon nonetheless.
Kaplyn was startled. A demon! He tried to waken but again failed. His heart beat harder. He could not move and it was as though a play was being enacted before him. A demon was incredibly dangerous. He had to wake up. The dream was fast becoming a nightmare.
The imp saw the woman and it grinned, revealing rows of needle-sharp teeth.
Do not approach; you cannot harm him.
“That mightst be,” the imp hissed. “But in time your enchantment will weaken, then fade. And thence I do whats I wants.”
Ignoring her, the imp drew near to Kaplyn’s body.
Kaplyn again struggled to waken. He had heard that demons could take a man’s soul. As it reached out towards his chest he screamed.
“Get it away from me!” he pleaded. For a fraction of a second he felt she had glanced towards him, but then her attention returned to the imp.
It ignored her and instead cast some secret sign about Kaplyn. “He’s mine now,” it said, sitting back on its haunches.
“Go!” the woman demanded.
Sitting above her, Kaplyn felt her drawing power. The imp recoiled but still did not leave.
It turned towards her, its eyes narrowed to mere slits. “Your time hasss passed, last of the Kalanth, and mine is just beginning. Soon demons will cross the divide, ssseeking souls and your kind can offer no protection now. I has finished here and my master calls. I go because I want to, and not because of your idle threatsss.”
Her scream of frustration rent the air — then she was gone.
Kaplyn jerked to wakefulness, already the dream fading from his mind. In the span of a heartbeat two things happened. He saw a terrible face peering over him and Star whinnied loudly. Abruptly there followed the crash of splintered wood as she tore her rein free before bolting into the trees. Kaplyn lashed out with his fist, a cry of fear erupting from his lips. Whatever it was drew back and vanished in the blink of an eye and his fist made contact with nothing more than air as he scrambled into a crouch.
Drawing his sword, he held the weapon extended. Except for the distant crashing and snapping of wood made by Star escaping, all else was quiet.
The dream forgotten, Kaplyn could not place what manner of creature had awoken him. His heart hammering, he span around expecting an attack at any moment. It was too dark to see and it was some while before his mind calmed enough to reason. The wood was still so whatever had threatened must have gone.
His thoughts turned to Star. Should he go after her? The darkness amongst the trees seemed too threatening and whatever had awoken him might still be nearby. The memory of the creature returned. It had been about the size of a fox, hairless and its flesh an unnatural grey. Its tongue had flickered across rows of sharp-looking teeth. He shuddered at the memory, feeding more wood onto the dying fire.
Was it a krell? he wondered, but shook his head. He refused to be drawn into fairy tales.
“Damn, now I am really tired,” he moaned. Star was a great loss to him. He hoped she would reach safety. The thought of wolves attacking her made him shudder and then a further thought occurred. How was he going to get home? The shame of returning without her made him turn cold. His brothers would tease him mercilessly.
Suddenly his attention was riveted on the far side of the glade; he thought he had heard voices. Then, more distinctly, he heard them again, louder, as though in heated debate. His heart leapt; perhaps he was near a settlement or a farm. However, caution kept him rooted to the spot — the thought that it could be outlaws sprang to mind.
His indecision did not last long; his fear of whatever else was in the wood prompted him to act. Slinging his saddlebag over his shoulder, he grabbed his bow. It took longer than usual to string it and before he could he had to still his trembling hands.
Looking around for any remaining possessions his eyes alighted on his saddle. That was too bulky to carry and he felt that he had no choice but to leave it. Perhaps he could return in the morning. Casting a last look about, he tipped water from his canteen onto the fire, causing it to hiss like angry snakes. Then he set off into the trees.
Pushing through the thick undergrowth was hard work and, even though the night was chilly, he was soon sweating. So he could find his way back to the glade he marked a few trees with the point of his knife. Before too long he saw a line of trees and just beyond these, a small rise crowned with thick bushes. Between the trees, there was a definite glow. Dropping to all fours he crawled towards the bushes, parting them to see.
Before him, the ground dipped into another glade, but much bigger than the one he had just left. A large fire in the glade’s centre cast enough light to see by. A man was pacing around the fire and four men were astride a fallen tree trunk whilst three others slouched on the ground. Most were eating and he noticed an aroma of roast pork.
They gave the impression of men used to living rough, hardened by nights spent in the wild. There was no doubting they were outlaws but, by their ragged appearance, they were unsuccessful ones. Some wore leather tunics torn and stained with wear, while others had thick woollen cloaks whose colour had long since faded. Their weapons were crude; mainly cudgels or knives, although two wore swords, tucked through their belts. Only the pacing man wore both a sword and scabbard, probably taken as plunder.
They were finishing their meal, putting down their platters and wiping greasy hands on their clothes. The pacing man abruptly stood still and threw an arm out, indicating beyond the circle of light to the rear of the camp.
“Bring him here,” he growled ominously. His voice carried easily to Kaplyn. “It’s time to deal with the man who killed my brother.”
Two men arose from the log and walked away from Kaplyn, disappearing amongst the trees. Kaplyn ducked lower, regretting now that he had left the comparative safety of his own camp. Just as he was about to leave, the men returned, pushing another man roughly before them. He stumbled in a manner suggesting his hands were bound behind his back.
He was a big man, broad across the chest, with powerful shoulders. His hair and beard were blond, which was a surprise to Kaplyn for Allunds were brown-haired and Thracians marginally fairer.
At that moment his captives were forcing him to his knees, kicking the back of his legs and pushing down on his shoulders. The prisoner resisted but their efforts were too much for him and he collapsed to his knees.
Striding towards the prisoner the leader raised his foot and slammed his heel into the prisoner’s face. Toppling backwards, the big man managed to stop himself falling. When he looked up his beard was flecked with blood.
“You will not have an easy death,” the outlaw spat with undisguised hatred. “You killed two of my men. One was my brother — for that, you’ll pay.” As he spoke he circled the prisoner before coming to a halt behind him. “The only thing is … I haven’t decided how to kill you — yet.”
“Let me finish him,” one of the men sitting on the trunk offered, holding a long knife in his hand, his eyes shining with anticipation.
The leader shook his head. “He’s mine. Hold him,” he waved his hand in the direction of two of his men. He then crossed to the fire as his men leapt to their feet to stand either side of the kneeling prisoner, each gripping a shoulder. The leader’s dagger reflected the firelight as he drew it before plunging it into the fire.
“Let's see how strong he is without his eyes,” he said through gritted teeth.
In his hiding place Kaplyn tensed and the colour drained from his face. Part of him wanted to leave and yet another part of him wanted to help the prisoner — but what could he do? If he interfered and the outlaws caught him, they would kill him. It was a dreadful choice, to stay and help or to go, and leave a man to his fate. Watching the outlaws torment the prisoner, anger blossomed in his chest and suddenly his mind was made up.
Crawling backwards he sought deeper shadows before rubbing soil on his face to mask its whiteness, spitting on his fingers to soften the soil. Rising slowly he stood braced against the trunk of a tree, hoping that he would not be silhouetted. His hunting bow was not meant for battle, but it was a stout weapon. Taking aim he prayed to the Kalanth for an alternative.
The men either side of the prisoner struggled to hold him down as he fought against them. Removing the now glowing knife from the fire their leader advanced, clearly enjoying himself as he brought his knife deliberately towards the other man’s eyes.
Kaplyn struggled with his conscience until he could not afford to wait any longer. Drawing his bow a fraction more, he released the arrow. A scream of agony rang through the trees as the arrow hammered into the outlaw’s shoulder. With a mingled wail of pain and rage, he dropped his knife.
All eyes flashed towards the trees, looking in Kaplyn's general direction but not at him. He kept still and it was soon clear from their bewildered looks that the outlaws could not see him. He drew an arrow from his sheath and nocked it.
As though released from a spell the men sitting on the fallen trunk flung themselves backward, behind the improvised barricade. The two men holding the prisoner let go as they, too, dived for cover behind the trunk.
“Who’s out there?” one man cried out to his companions.
“Town guard?” came a muffled reply.
“Can’t be,” said another. “We’re too far from the town. The guard would never come this far.”
“King’s troops then?” came back a timid reply.
“Quiet!” snapped the leader. “Use your bloody ears, and cease wagging your tongues.” He alone was standing, clutching his wound; his face twisted in pain. After a moment he seemed satisfied. “Get up,” he ordered. When no one responded he went over to the log and delivered a hefty kick to some poor unfortunate. A grunt followed.
“There’s only one man, otherwise they would have attacked by now. Get out there and find whoever shot me!”
An outlaw timidly climbed to his feet. Kaplyn aimed and loosed another arrow that thudded into the trunk sufficiently close to send him scurrying back for cover.
“He’s a good shot,” Kaplyn heard.
“I don’t care,” the outlaw chief screamed. “Get out there and bring me his head!” He delivered another kick and Kaplyn heard a further grunt of pain.
Finally, one man dared to rise, either out of bravado or because of his leader’s brutality. The man sprinted for the line of trees to Kaplyn's left. Kaplyn let fly an arrow but his aim was poor and the man escaped. Time was against him now with an outlaw amongst the trees. Again he feared capture, but he could not leave the other man. Not now.
Seeing their colleague’s success and fearful of their leader’s anger, two more men ran after the first. Events were now so out of control that Kaplyn had to shoot more accurately. The arrow hit one of the running men in the lower back, spilling him to the ground with a cry of pain. Briefly the man struggled to crawl forward, but his strength left him and he collapsed. The other man managed to reach the tree line where he disappeared from view.
Behind the log no one dared move, even their leader dropped behind cover, still berating the others for their cowardice. Forgotten and recognising an opportunity to escape, the prisoner climbed with difficulty to his feet and started to run towards the trees in the opposite direction taken by the two outlaws.
The outlaw leader, seeing his prisoner escaping, shouted out in rage. He stood up. A well-placed arrow barely missed his head, causing him to drop back with a yelp of agony as the barb already in his arm bit deeper.
Kaplyn shot two more shafts at the tree trunk in quick succession before scooping up his saddlebag and quiver of dwindling arrows. He ran through the thick vegetation, aiming in the general direction that the prisoner had taken. He had little difficulty in finding him, following the sound of cracking twigs and the louder snap of branches.
Before Kaplyn could reach him the large blond man stopped and turned to face him; his feet firmly planted and defiance in his eyes even though his hands were bound.
“I’m a friend,” Kaplyn said, skidding to a halt.
The big man relaxed. “Untie me,” he replied, turning his back and offering his bound wrists.
Kaplyn wanted to continue and the delay made his heart hammer even faster, however, he slung his bow across his back and drew a dagger. As quickly as he could he cut the bonds.
The big man rubbed at his chafed wrists. “Thanks,” he whispered .
“Go!” Kaplyn urged. “They’ll be after us.”
They jogged deeper into the wood, but branches lashed their flesh, forcing them to walk. All at once, Kaplyn grabbed the other man’s shoulder, forcing him to crouch. Not far away he heard someone crashing through the vegetation.
“They’re over here,” someone shouted.
Kaplyn kept a grip on the other man’s shoulder. He was terrified; if they were caught they would both be killed.
“Stay still,” he whispered. At first, he thought the outlaws had discovered them, but the sound of their passage through the vegetation was fading. “Come on,” Kaplyn whispered and led them away from the direction the outlaw had gone, taking care to keep noise to a minimum.
After a while Kaplyn said softly, “That was close. We nearly stumbled into an outlaw. Something must have distracted him.”
“Probably an animal,” the other man suggested softly.
Kaplyn nodded. “We need to keep walking. They’ll still be looking for us.”
In silence, they continued for the better part of the night, stopping occasionally to listen for signs of pursuit. After several stops Kaplyn decided they were finally safe; he collapsed where he stood, breathing a sigh of relief.
“I’m shattered,” the big man said, sitting down across from Kaplyn with his back against a trunk. Dark rings circled his eyes and he looked barely able to stand. “My name’s Lars,” he said, holding out his hand. Kaplyn shook it.
“Kaplyn,” he returned.
“I’m grateful you came along when you did.”
“What happened?” Kaplyn whispered.
Lars shook his head. “I was foolish enough to enter the wood, that’s what happened! They must have seen me as an easy target, armed only with a walking staff. I put up a fight but when the second man fell, their leader went wild, ordering me to be taken alive. Their numbers overwhelmed me.”
The two men fell silent for a moment, each listening to the night noises, trying to discern if they were being followed. Above, an owl hooted and then there was silence.
“I’ve never seen anyone with blond hair before. Where are you from?”
“Gorlanth, it’s far across the sea.”
“I’ve never heard of it.”
Lars nodded. “Not many people have. Few Allunders even know land exists across the sea. A storm keeps all but the bravest captain close to the shore. Every day I pray to return home, to my wife and son.”
Kaplyn saw the hurt reflected deep within his eyes. In respect for the other man’s need for silence he turned his thoughts to their predicament, estimating that about half the night remained. “We need to leave,” he announced at last.
“Can’t we rest here, for a while at least? After all it would be safer continuing in the morning, when it’s light.”
Kaplyn was not so sure. The wood made him nervous and he was keen to leave. He conceded, however, that it was more dangerous travelling in the dark.
“Very well, we’ll stay here, but we need to take turns on guard.”
Lars nodded and Kaplyn offered to stand the first watch. For a while he sat awake, listening to Lars’ snoring which seemed loud enough to attract a host of outlaws let alone whatever creatures lurked in the wood. He considered waking him, but having seen how tired he looked he felt guilty and decided not to, choosing instead to reflect on the events of the night.
He regretted the loss of his belongings and especially Star, nevertheless he realised there was no going back. He had clothes and money in his saddlebag and a few gold coins secreted into the lining of his leather jerkin so he could afford to replace his losses. Then his mind turned to the man he had shot. Even though he was an outlaw, he hoped he had not killed him. It was an uncomfortable thought and one that would prey on his mind.
After a while, when Kaplyn felt that he could not stay awake any longer, he shook Lars’ shoulder. The big man stirred and looked around blearily. “Your turn to keep guard,” Kaplyn said.
Lars grumbled, sat up and looked out into the darkness. Kaplyn waited to make sure his companion was taking his duty seriously, then laid down but before sleep could claim him, a single thought occurred. He felt changed, as though tainted by the recent events. Although he would not remember it in the morning, imps and demons plagued his dreams.