Read Shadeborn: A Book of Underrealm Online

Authors: Garrett Robinson

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Shadeborn: A Book of Underrealm

BOOK: Shadeborn: A Book of Underrealm
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About the Author



Garrett Robinson

Copyright © 2015 by Living Art Books. All rights reserved. This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, businesses, events or locales is purely coincidental. Reproduction in whole or part of this publication without express written consent is strictly prohibited.

The author greatly appreciates you taking the time to read his work. Please help spread the word by leaving a review wherever you purchased it.

To my wife

Who gave me this idea

To my children

Who just make life better

To Johnny, Sean and Dave

Who told me to write

And to my Rebels

Don’t forget why you left the woods


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Loren sat slouched in her seat, searching and failing to find any reason why today should be better than the one before.

Her companions still lay sleeping upstairs. Even Albern had not yet risen, though the bowyer always woke before sunrise. Loren had not stirred before them—instead she had stayed awake through the night, unable to close her eyes for fear of what she might see in her mind. A cup of wine had turned into two, and then a bottle as the moons set. Now the sky was creeping toward the grey of another dirty dawn.

The innkeeper Mag used a damp rag to polish the counter, though to Loren’s mind it shone bright already. Every so often, the woman would lift her gaze to survey the room, observing the early risers who had joined Loren for breakfast, or the nighttime arrivals who had traveled to Northwood for reasons unknown—and, mayhap, best not asked after. Mag’s gaze never sought Loren in particular, but neither did she ever shy from looking at her.

In the days since their arrival at the inn, that was something Loren always appreciated: Mag kept many thoughts to herself, and she never treated Loren different from any other customer. She could not say this for the others, who mostly sought to avoid her, if not pull her into conversation with soft words she was not ready to hear.

All except Chet, of course.

This time, Mag’s keen eye found Loren’s empty goblet and bowl. She sidled out from behind the thick oak counter, crossed the room, scooped up the empty bowl from the table without a word, and scraped it free of the remaining stew.

“Will you be wanting anything else, love?” Her words held neither judgement nor too much care, spoken as though Loren were any other girl visiting the inn. Yet in that plain tone, Loren heard another kind of concern.

“Another glass of wine would suit me well, except that I feel my debt is growing too large. When will you let me ease my burden and pay for my custom like the rest of your patrons?”

“Another time, mayhap. But not yet.” Mag swept up the cup, dropped it in the bowl, and returned to the bar. She pulled a clean cup from the shelves, followed by another. She filled both, returned to the table, and then to Loren’s surprise took a seat.

Now at last she means to speak her mind

Loren should have expected it. Mag had seemed more understanding, less intrusive, than any of the others. But she must have felt the way they did all along and chosen now to finally say something. Why she had waited so long, Loren could not imagine.

“I have heard what the others say, urging you toward better spirits. You must know they are wrong, and that this is not something to hasten.”

Loren blinked, and after a moment said, “Those are not the words I thought to hear.”

“I imagine not.” Mag smiled gently and sipped her wine. “You thought I would lend my voice to theirs.”

“Indeed, they seem to think they know what is best for me, no matter my wishes.” Loren swigged from her own cup—a deeper, longer drink than Mag’s.

“Yet you will note that Albern has not joined their insistence. Nor would I. We are alike and have seen many dark times together. We have felt loss and done deeds we wish we could not recall for their haunting.”

Loren saw a broken body draped in red. An arrow protruding from a thigh. A hateful man crawling through the dirt. She shivered, blinked hard, and drank again in desperation.

Mag’s hand came gently to rest upon hers, stretched out on the table. “Only time can rid us of these aches. You are fortunate to have that time. Take it—as much as you need. Let the pictures fade from your mind, one by one, until they trouble you no longer, neither in sleep nor waking hours. ’Tis not something you should try to hurry.”

Loren picked at her sleeve. Though it had been only a few days since their arrival in Northwood, she had seen no improvement in her mood, nor in the dark thoughts that never ceased their plaguing. “And what happens then? What did you and Albern do, when your darkness refused to leave?”

“Only then are you near to the end. Embracing our grief plants the seed of healing, and once it is well laid we must take it upon ourselves to foster the growth. An untended crop twists in the earth. A sorry harvest, and one you have likely seen before: the drunkard who cannot think to spend his time anywhere but the tavern, his coin invested in oblivion alone.”

Wine soured in Loren’s mouth. “You might as well say what you mean:
coin. Yet you will not take mine.”

Mag frowned. “If I meant to rebuke you, I would do it without bandying words. Only you can know when you are ready for your next step. I only mean to say that when the time comes, take it you must, or you will find that losing yourself comes too easy. Action can help you along the road—any action, though deeds of purpose are best. Or sometimes, the comfort of another can be medicine true. Like that boy Chet.”

“He is trying. Often have we walked in the Birchwood, and under its leaves I find something closer to peace than I do with the others, with their soft words and cautious glances.”

Mag gave her a look that lasted a moment too long. Loren blushed and quickly took another swallow of wine.

“You should embrace anything that helps.” Loren thought she heard a smile’s tease in the innkeeper’s simple words. “Remember: do not let the others push you sooner than you are ready. There will be time enough for their cares. But you must first tend to yourself.”

Boots tromped heavily down the stairs. Loren turned to see Albern descending into the common room with a quick glance and a halfhearted smile. Mag rose and met him at the bar to take the bowyer’s order and fetch his breakfast. Loren sat in the quiet, considering her words.

Loren did not enjoy her solitude long. Albern joined her at the table with his eggs and a rash of bacon. He said nothing but did not have Mag’s skill at disguising his curious eyes. Soon, Loren heard the thumping again and looked up to see Xain glowering down.

The wizard’s limbs had gone thin and bony, his cheeks so gaunt that Loren half imagined she could see his teeth pressing against the flesh inside. His hair was thinning. It would surely come out in clumps if she tugged upon it. He was a specter of death, and the effect was not lost on the room’s other inhabitants. Some had drunk too much to care, but others averted their eyes or stood to leave with muttered excuses, even with no one near enough to hear them.

Xain failed to notice, or cared not. He stalked toward Loren, pulled out the chair beside hers, and slouched in his seat, eyebrows drawing together. He leaned close, his voice a harsh whisper, though Loren was sure it carried to the quiet room’s every corner.

“Tell me you have finally had enough of this skulking and are ready for the road.”

“Xain,” said Albern in a warning tone. His fingers tightened on the handle of his mug.

“A good morrow to you, fair sir.” Loren tried to make the words light but could not keep their edge away. “Eat with us, I pray, and help yourself to some wine.” She raised her cup and wiggled it back and forth.

Xain failed to hear the joke, snatched her cup, and drained it in a gulp. “I take it you do not mean to move on, then. Do you think we have eternity to squander?”

“Have we spent an eternity here already, Albern?” Loren looked toward the bowyer with feigned interest. “Sky above, I thought but a few days had passed us.”

“Your jests are stale and grow more with every passing of the sun,” said Xain. “When will we speak, away from this room and its many prying ears? Days pass, and yet still you will not tell me that which you once thought so urgent.”

Loren knew full well what the wizard meant. They had yet to decide upon their next destination after leaving Northwood, and Loren had grave words for the wizard indeed. But those words had come from Jordel the Mystic, and he had died moments after they sputtered from his lips. Recalling the words meant remembering the man, and Loren could not think of Jordel without her heart wanting to break. Nor had the past week made it any easier, for in Northwood she had learned a horrible truth, about herself and the cruel man she had shot in the thigh. The man she had once called Father, but whom—by her own hand—no one would ever speak to again.

“Soon,” said Loren, in a quieter voice than she intended. “I promise you. Just give me more time. My grief still presses too close upon me.”

Xain growled, eyes darting about as though searching for another argument. His fingers picked at his coat sleeve. A deep hunger gnawed at his insides, and Loren knew the wizard’s mind was not entirely his. She was grateful it was not like last time, when Xain’s mind had grown so dark that she would have feared to share a room.

“Good morn,” said a familiar voice, warm and welcome. Chet stood by Loren’s side, appearing as he often did as if from nowhere.

“Good morn,” said Loren, rising from her seat before Xain could choose his next bitter words. But she moved too fast and had forgotten her many cups of wine. Loren lurched and nearly fell. She would have if not for her seizing the table’s edge as Chet took her gently by the arm.

She steadied herself, flushing with embarrassment. “I thought to greet the sun from the Birchwood. Would you care to join me under the solace of its branches?”

BOOK: Shadeborn: A Book of Underrealm
12.33Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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