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Authors: Valerie Douglas

Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Mythology & Folk Tales, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Fantasy, #Epic, #Sword & Sorcery, #Arthurian, #Fairy Tales

The Coming Storm

BOOK: The Coming Storm
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All of them knew kobolds were cunning but not smart. Smarter than wolves and bears, yes. Not as smart as goblins or trolls, which were nearly as canny as men but sly and wily. Kobolds were fast, though, very fast. Sinuous as a snake, elongated in body like an oversized weasel, their long claws were so finely sharp they could cut through skin and you wouldn’t feel the sting. Their heads were nearly hairless, eyes tucked beneath overhanging ridges of bone to protect them, the nostrils set back far on the snout so they could still breathe with their mouths full. The snout was narrow at the tip but widened quickly into a mouthful of backward-curving teeth. A bite from a kobold was venomous and they spent much of their time when not hunting licking their claws to make them as toxic as their bite.

Dolin.

That kobold had barely cleared him. Elon glanced at the man, seeing his pallor again in a different light. A light sweat sheened the man’s face, perhaps from the hard sprint. Then Elon saw the slight rent in the man’s shirt along the back, the darkness of shed blood staining it below his vest.

With a nudge of his knee he urged his horse closer.

Those razor-fine claws.

“Dolin,” he said, gently.

The man’s head turned toward him so slowly Elon’s worst fears were confirmed.

Dolin’s eyes were glassy, his frantically beating pulse spreading the poison through his body. How much venom had he taken?

For a kobold hunting alone this was a standard tactic, which was why they were so deadly to Elves, with their soul and true-friend bonds. Or a female animal and her young. Wound one. Once the venom took that one down, they had a much better chance to add another as the others were forced to defend the wounded. Or more than one in this case. Then they picked them off to feed at their leisure.

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE COMING STORM

 

Book One of The Coming Storm series

 

By

 

Valerie Douglas

 

 

 

Published by the author as a member of the

Alexandria Publishing Group

 

The Coming Storm Copyright © 2012 Valerie Douglas

 

Cover art by Pro Book Covers

 

With the exception of quotes used in reviews, this book may not be reproduced or used in whole or in part by any means existing without written permission from author.

Warning: The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. No part of this book may be scanned, uploaded or distributed via the Internet or any other means, electronic or print, without the publisher’s permission. Criminal copyright infringement, including infringement without monetary gain, is investigated by the FBI and is punishable by up to 5 years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000. (http://www.fbi.gov/ipr/). Please purchase only authorized electronic or print editions and do not participate in or encourage the electronic piracy of copyrighted material. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.

 

This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons, living or dead, or places, events or locales is purely coincidental. The characters are productions of the author’s imagination and used fictitiously.

 

License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

 

Discover other titles by Valerie Douglas

 

Fantasy

 

A Convocation of Kings – Book Two

Not Magic Enough

Setting Boundaries

 

Heart of the Gods

Song of the Fairy Queen

 

Thrillers

Nike’s Wings

The Last Resort

 

Romance

The Millersburg Quartet

Dirty Politics

Directors Cut

Irish Fling

Two Up

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dedication

 

 

To Mateo and T, Maria, Marco, Andy, Sinead and Xi,  Kai – my editor - and all the others who stuck with me through the years…and walked me through the dark times and the light…

 

To the soldiers and warriors everywhere who put their lives on the line daily for the innocent, with my thanks

 

And of course, as always, to my beloved husband….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Are great people born in times of great trouble or do times of great trouble cause people to rise to greatness?

Ancient Elven query, a part of the Mysteries

 

 

 

This is a tale of such a time

 

Chapter One
 

The mother bear had put up a terrible fight to save her cubs, as they will do when their young were threatened. All around the clearing the dirt was torn up – the underbrush crushed and the trees marked with blood and fur. It had been a valiant but futile effort on the part of the bear. Little remained of her and her offspring except for the blood, the shattered bones and a few traces of offal. They stank but not nearly as much as the reek of something else…something that chilled Elon’s blood.

“Kobold,” he said, quietly into the unnatural silence of the wood – mute testimony to the fact that the predators that had done this still remained somewhere near.

They hadn’t reckoned on kobolds. Although there had been reports of something killing down here, they’d thought it was perhaps a young orc or a boggart. So far from the borderlands, it would’ve been more likely by far to be a rogue bear.

It wasn’t the bear that had gone rogue.

Every sense was alert – his eyes as much on the destruction here as on the least twitch of a branch against the breeze.

Around him, the eyes of the other Hunters scanned everywhere, down in the shadows, up into the branches and all around. Bows were strung and arrows were notched against what they couldn’t see.

“Aye,” Colath said, kneeling in the dirt next to a particularly noxious heap of offal and scat. Looking up, he gave Elon a significant look. “More than one.”

Elon looked closer, not that he had any doubts as to true-friend’s assessment. The signs were unmistakable. The coldness in his belly spread. Colath – his true-friend, paxman and most trusted companion – was vulnerable down there. Especially to kobolds, who ran low to the ground.

“Kobolds don’t travel in packs. Something’s wrong here. Get back in the saddle, Colath, and quickly.”

He didn’t speak loudly but he did speak urgently and then gave a soft, low whistle to call the others in as well.

An answer came from the scouts, who were already turning, quickly and quietly, to close in on the rest of the group. They were vulnerable, so far from the others.

Those closest to them had already heard and were alert, passing the news to those who couldn’t hear. Elf or man, without instruction, responded by pairing up. One looked up into the trees, the other scanned the bushes around them. Men had an atavistic and ancient abhorrence of these creatures and no one of either race would discount instinct. Elon trusted his people enough not to need to remind them. Noise wouldn’t serve them well here.

Colath didn’t need much urging or even the reminder. A cold chill had gone up his spine at the thought. Being on the ground was a bad position with kobolds around. He was exposed there. In one quick move he swung up into the saddle and drew his bow. Not his best weapon – that was the sword – but best against kobolds.

One kobold was bad enough but two were a nightmare.

With one kobold, a band this size was barely enough. For two? They were too few. Especially in country like this, with a lot of scrub trees and too much low cover. A bear and two cubs were a good enough meal for one kobold but not a second. This had happened some days ago – they would be hungry again and searching for prey.

Bears, wolves and mountain cats – all those natural creatures – would avoid Elves, Men, or Dwarves unless they were desperate or starving. Kobolds – magically warped creatures of the borderlands – preferred the taste of men if they were near and would seek them out, although they would take a wounded Elf if they could. Elves were tougher prey.

With hand signals, Elon gestured everyone away – back the way they’d come.

A shout – a desperate cry.

One of the scouts.

Elon saw the man passing through the trees, clinging to his horse with his knees even as he ducked and threw up his sword just in time to save his own life.

All Elon saw was a flash of darkness before he heard the characteristic shriek of an attacking kobold. Already a dozen arrows winged into the brush around the scout. A second volley followed the first. There were no archers to match an Elf, no matter how good some Men might be.

The men instead had their swords drawn – creating a ring of steel to guard the precious Elven archers.

The scout charged into the center of the ring of archers and spun his horse around.

Dolin.

“I felt him before I saw him, milord,” he said, quickly, his voice a mere whisper. His face was white. It was a measure of his fear that he used the title as Elves did not.

“There are two,” Elon said – also softly – as they retreated through the trees as quickly as they could.

Dolin’s eyes widened. “I swear, Elon, I sensed only the one.”

Quickly, Elon whistled low, turned them. The Hunters had become the hunted. His instincts shrilled. Unless he was mistaken, this kobold was driving them into a trap.

It wasn’t an unlikely tactic. Wolves used it well. While one half of the pack drove a herd; the rest lay in wait. In all his long years, though, he’d never heard of kobolds doing it, much less working in pairs.

Not far through these woods was a outcropping of rock, a tumbled mass of boulders pushed up out of the earth. The trees weren’t so close there. They were moving too slowly though, the kobolds could stalk them faster.

“Colath,” he said softly. “Set light. Throw it, there and there.”

Why
? Colath wondered. Then it dawned on him. He nodded, sharply.

Elf lights, small balls of light they conjured at night to light their quarters or their way, were useless offensively. They cast no heat, only light. Kobolds, however, liked the darkness, their eyes were sensitive. They liked deep woods like this, clinging to the shadows beneath the bushes and trees that favored their dark coloring. Normally, an Elf didn’t throw an Elf-light, rather it was conjured into the air and set where he wished. As long as he was close, it would stay lit. When he left, it went out. For this purpose, though, they should last  long enough. A sudden burst of light was all that was needed.

As one, he and Elon pitched the lights into the underbrush.

“Go!” Elon said, sharply, as a kobold screamed nearby.

Branches and twigs snapped as it scrambled away.

It chilled him to realize how close it had been before he spun his horse and raced to the lead.

Turning in the saddle, he sent two more of the lights into the brush behind them. A black shadow shied away behind the last rider. It had circled behind them to cut off their retreat. Behind them. Stalking them. This wasn’t normal behavior for a kobold.

The thought was disturbing.

Without needing instruction the first riders to reach the clearing spun their horses on their heels just shy of the rocks to cover those who came up behind them and drew bows and swords. With a quick signal, Elon sent two of the archers up on top of the rocks where they would have a better shot.

“What now?” Colath asked.

Scanning the brush, Elon answered, “Now we see what they choose. They have quarry they can see. They can choose to come after us, where we have numbers in our favor and they don’t have as much cover from which to attack. Or they can move on.”

All of them knew kobolds were cunning but not smart. Smarter than wolves and bears, yes. Not as smart as goblins or trolls, which were nearly as canny as men but sly and wily. Kobolds were fast, though, very fast. Sinuous as a snake, elongated in body like an oversized weasel, their long claws were so finely sharp they could cut through skin and you wouldn’t feel the sting. Their heads were nearly hairless, eyes tucked beneath overhanging ridges of bone to protect them, the nostrils set back far on the snout so they could still breathe with their mouths full. The snout was narrow at the tip but widened quickly into a mouthful of backward-curving teeth. A bite from a kobold was venomous and they spent much of their time when not hunting licking their claws to make them as toxic as their bite.

Dolin.

That kobold had barely cleared him. Elon glanced at the man, seeing his pallor again in a different light. A light sweat sheened the man’s face, perhaps from the hard sprint. Then Elon saw the slight rent in the man’s shirt along the back, the darkness of shed blood staining it below his vest.

With a nudge of his knee he urged his horse closer.

Those razor-fine claws.

“Dolin,” he said, gently.

The man’s head turned toward him so slowly Elon’s worst fears were confirmed.

Dolin’s eyes were glassy, his frantically beating pulse spreading the poison through his body. How much venom had he taken?

For a kobold hunting alone this was a standard tactic – which was why they were so deadly to Elves, with their soul and true-friend bonds. Or a female animal and her young. Wound one. Once the venom took that one down, they had a much better chance to add another as the others were forced to defend the wounded. Or more than one in this case. Then they picked them off to feed at their leisure.

“Elon?” Dolin asked, dazed and bewildered.

Colath took a swift intake of breath at the sound of Dolin’s voice while one of the other Hunters swore softly.

Elon’s mouth tightened. There were a dozen herbs that would counteract some of the poison but this was no time for bandages and poultices.

As a rule Elves didn’t Heal Men. An unspoken rule, it was a rule nonetheless.

There were a dozen good reasons why they didn’t – it wasn’t wise to flaunt magic before those who couldn’t use it. There were few Elves – fewer still who Healed as he did – and far too many Men. They had their own chirurgeons and wizards to do their healing, just not here. Many of his people would’ve refused and some would be unhappy if they learned he’d done this. So be it. If it had been one of his Elves he wouldn’t hesitate and he wouldn’t for these either. They were all Hunters, all his men, trusted, and they looked to him.

What gave him pause were the circumstances. He could Heal Dolin but it would take energy, time and his attention away from the kobolds at a time when his people needed him.

There was no question.

“Colath?”

“I have it,” Colath answered. “They’ll come from the sides, they won’t attack direct.”

Could he do this in the saddle? Enough to hold Dolin until they could break free? Elon had to try. If the two of them dismounted they would be low and vulnerable. A rush by the kobolds would have them both. He took Dolin’s arm as the man moaned and shivered.

Trust in Colath and their people, it was all he could do. As much as he did, the thought didn’t make his neck feel any less vulnerable.

Colath sharpened his attention, for the moment not Elon’s true-friend and aide, but his captain. Not waiting for orders but waiting to signal them. He knew these folk, Elves and men alike, as well or better than Elon did. He served with them daily, unlike Elon whose duties as First, among other things, kept him more than busy.

Rapt by the warmth in his hands, by the rush of blood and the slow thumping of heart, to Elon all else became distant. Seeking to find the harmony that was Dolin was difficult. Men weren’t as easy to work with as his own folk but his Elven empathy and the harmony between his own body and spirit aided him.

Men didn’t have that.

The poison was a different and an indifferent enemy, it destroyed from the inside out. He set Dolin’s body’s defenses to hold it, then found a place to contain it, if only for a while. He heard the rush of the kobold’s attack, the nerve-shattering scream, the sing of a dozen bow-strings as a flight of arrows was loosed, but only dimly, as if they happened elsewhere. Was what he’d done enough? In a few hours, the wound that ran along Dolin’s back and shoulder would fester. That could be lanced and then herbs would finish the job.

It had been luck only the kobold had missed Dolan’s spine. It had to be enough. He set a command to sleep and Dolin slumped in his saddle. Binding him to it, Elon looked up.

Each Elven quiver had been lightened significantly. The men looked tense.

“Only one came at us at a time,” Colath said, “testing our quickness and our defenses. Getting the measure of us.”

That wasn’t natural to kobolds but Elon didn’t doubt Colath’s evaluation.

“Let’s change the measure then,” Elon said. “ ‘Ware above, keep your eyes sharp so they don’t take you by surprise from behind.”

He glanced along the row of backs before him, Elven and men both and urged his horse between.

BOOK: The Coming Storm
7.33Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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