QSFer Kim Fielding has a new fantasy book out:
Ennek, the son of the Chief, and Miner, a former slave, have escaped the totalitarian city-state of Praesidium and remain fugitives. Having defeated two mighty wizards, they begin to realize complete freedom can be as dangerous as absolute power. Now Ennek and Miner must face battles, corruption, and further journeys through lands both new and familiar.
As they grow more secure in their relationship, they learn the greatest challenges sometimes come from very close to the heart and everything of value has a price. With the help of a few allies, they seek equipoise—a balance for themselves and for their world.
Book Three in the Ennek Trilogy
First Edition published by CreateSpace, 2012.
OVER THE top of the ridge, black smoke curled dark and sinister against the bright blue sky. Miner came to an abrupt stop, holding out his arm to halt his companion as well. “Ennek!”
“I see,” Ennek snapped. His tone was nastier than he’d intended, and he sighed. He was angry at himself, not Miner. He pushed past Miner’s arm, but Miner grabbed at his sleeve.
“Maybe we shouldn’t just march right in,” the former slave said, his pale eyebrows drawn with concern. Ennek wanted to stop and smooth the worry away, but now wasn’t the time for that. In fact, it was rather too much… smoothing… that had led to their delay. But Miner had still been recovering from the nearly fatal wounds the wizard Akilina had inflicted on him—wounds that Ennek had barely mended in time—and their grassy spot by the river had been so peaceful, the fish practically sacrificing themselves on Ennek’s spear. Miner had wanted to return immediately to Luli’s village after defeating Akilina, but Ennek had insisted they pause for a few days. Foolish of him, he knew, but he wanted Miner to regain his strength and, selfishly, he wanted a little time alone with his lover.
“We can’t just stay here,” Ennek said irritably. “And we don’t know any way around.”
“I know. Just… let’s be cautious, okay? We’re not much of an army, the two of us.” He patted the short sword that hung at his hip. It was poorly made and it hadn’t been well cared for, but it and the scythe Ennek now carried over his shoulder were the only weapons they had managed to scavenge from the hastily abandoned village where Akilina had lived. Miner carried a knife as well—the same knife with which he’d killed Akilina—and that completed their arsenal. Unless you counted Ennek’s magic, of course, but his magic was a blunt and terrible instrument as likely to bring cataclysm to the innocent as to defeat enemies.
Ennek nodded. “Akilina was able to send herself inside birds.” He waved at a flock of small brownish creatures twittering in the nearby treetops. “Maybe I could try that. I could fly over the hill and see what’s going on.”
“And you could miscalculate and end up killing yourself somehow, or—gods! What if you couldn’t put yourself back in your own body after your spying mission was complete? You’ve never tried anything like that before. What if you make yourself so ill we can’t go on, or we end up even more vulnerable?”
Ennek scowled, but he knew Miner was right. Working magic always made him weak and nauseous for a time. His element was water, and he’d only inherited Akilina’s affinity for air when she magically bound him to her right before her death. He hadn’t practiced with it at all. “I can’t fly and we can’t stay here. You don’t want to go back, do you?”
“No. We need to get to Luli and—”
“And warn her that Akilina’s dead and things are going to be unsettled around here for a while. I know.” Ennek tucked his hair behind one ear and squeezed Miner’s shoulder. “Means we have to march forward, Mine.”
Miner smiled a little, as he always did when Ennek used the nickname. “Fine. Just… carefully. I’ll lead.”
“I’ll lead,” Miner repeated firmly and resumed walking along the narrow path.
“You’re not my bloody bodyguard,” Ennek grumbled to Miner’s back.
“No, but I was a guard. I’ve had fight training, and even a little experience.”
“Three hundred years ago.”
Miner shot him a look over his shoulder. “Ancient experience is better than none.”
Ennek trudged along behind and cursed halfheartedly in an especially foul-sounding tongue he’d learned from a sailor. As a youth he’d had sword-fighting lessons, but that was over a decade ago, against a teacher who wouldn’t have dared to actually injure the Chief’s younger son. And he’d used a long, light rapier, very finely wrought with a fancy jeweled hilt. Not the rusty pig-sticker that Miner was bearing, and certainly not the farmer’s tool he bore on his own shoulder. Ennek would have felt more comfortable armed with a pistol or a rifle, but he hadn’t seen any firearms since the pirates had attacked the Eclipse. Well, perhaps that was for the best—perhaps it meant that any assailants they met would also be armed only with blades.
The pathway grew steep, strewn with small rocks that made footing treacherous. When Miner’s ankle twisted as he stepped on a stone, Ennek moved forward, ready to catch him, but Miner regained his equilibrium quickly and continued onward without a limp.
It would have been nice if they could have crouched near the top of the ridge, peering down into the valley below. But the other side of the slope was gentler and covered with trees, and they could see nothing through the leaves and trunks. If Ennek looked up, however, he could still see the serpentine smoke trail. It seemed neither darker nor lighter than before.
Ennek’s feet slid a bit on some pine needles. “I used to have the most boring life. I drank, I sailed. I drank some more. Nobody tried to… to use me, or kill me. I didn’t have responsibility for anyone but myself. And barely that.”
“Do you wish you could return to that?” Miner asked quietly.
“No. I wasn’t happy, Mine.”
“And you’re happy now?” Miner gestured down the hill, where only the gods knew what awaited them.
“Not at this exact minute.” Ennek grinned to himself. “I was pretty happy this morning, though, when we woke up and you—”
Miner punched him lightly in the shoulder. “Not what I meant.”
“I’ve… since I’ve met you I’ve had glimpses of happiness. In between the parts where we’ve been getting captured and bashed about, I’ve had peeks at happiness. Like when the sun’s rays cut through a quick break in the clouds.”
Miner nodded, and they walked in silence, even their footfalls muffled by the damp fallen leaves. Eventually the slope became flatter and the trees thinned; just ahead the woods stopped altogether. Ennek knew from their previous travels that many miles of fields lay ahead of them, the land flat and dusty. Akilina had thrown a curse on the local villagers years earlier when they had angered her, and now their soil was poor and unthrifty, requiring backbreaking labor to produce scant harvests. When Miner and Ennek had walked this way before, they had seen bent-backed people toiling with heavy tools, their thin faces weathered by the sun and their eyes flat from years of sorrow.
But today the fields were empty, and as Ennek stood next to Miner under the last of the trees, he could see the smoke rising thick and noxious from what had once been the cluster of village houses. Perhaps a hundred paces from the men, a body was crumpled on the ground, prone and unmoving.
“Who do you suppose did this?” Miner asked softly.
“I don’t know.”
Kim Fielding is very pleased every time someone calls her eclectic. Her books have won Rainbow Awards and span a variety of genres. She has migrated back and forth across the western two-thirds of the United States and currently lives in California, where she long ago ran out of bookshelf space. She’s a university professor who dreams of being able to travel and write full time. She also dreams of having two perfectly behaved children, a husband who isn’t obsessed with football, and a house that cleans itself. Some dreams are more easily obtained than others.