Advance Chapter – Tears of Devotion

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Chapter 1: The River

This is a sample chapter from Book 3 in the FALLS OF REDEMPTION epic fantasy trilogy. It is a draft, meaning it has not been edited or finalized. That said, I’m open to feedback! 

 


The man’s eyes opened, and he stared at the clouds floating across the sun that glimmered and wavered as if barely there. Yellow rays of light warmed the man’s skin, accompanied by a gentle breeze. A breath of fresh air alerted his senses, pulling him into the present, reminding him that he couldn’t lie there forever.

For a moment, he wondered if he were in heaven, but a shooting pain in his back told him that thought was wrong. He sat up with the piercing question of who he was and why he was here.

A glance at himself revealed tattered blue robes, and a sandal on his left foot but none on his right. He glanced at his surroundings, curious, hoping for a clue among the weeping willows that lined the reed-filled river, but found none.

Waters raged inches from the man’s feet, tossing froth across small rocks like a rabid dog hoping to eat all in its path. All but the life-size statue of a woman in the middle of the river, where the water soothed to a low whisper. The moment the man’s gaze met the face of the statue, he wished he had not wasted so much time looking elsewhere. He thought of diverting his eyes, to look at the maples in his periphery or the gentle sky he still knew was above him, but he couldn’t. The statue’s slender neck led the man’s eyes to the soft chin and the perfectly formed pouty lips of this sorrow-filled angel. The marble formed a sleek nose below large eyes that stared into the sky as if to thank the heavens for her beauty.

A leaf came to a rest as it drifted along the river, floating against the statue’s base like a gentle hand caressing the woman’s leg. At that moment, the man thought he would give anything to be that leaf. Hours passed, and the statue seemed alive at moments, but always full of sorrow, and always staring at the heavens in gratitude.

The sun rose from the east and threatened to set in the west, without a single moment of distraction in the man’s attentive gaze. Part of him hoped, maybe even believed, that if he lingered here long enough, the lapping waters would break the stone and reveal a living woman beneath. But another part of him said that no woman alive had ever been so beautiful. It couldn’t be possible.

The man’s thoughts continued to focus on nothing but the statue, until a loud rumble drew him from the spell. He turned to the heavens, thinking it had been thunder, but the sky was clear. Again the rumbling sounded. Not the sky, he realized. It was his stomach. When had he last eaten? He looked around, clueless as to where he would find food in a place like this.

His heart sank at the thought of leaving the beautiful river and the captivating statue’s side. Birds flitted between the trees, but he couldn’t think of any means to catch them. It occurred to him that perhaps there would be berries in the bushes at the base of the trees.

The few berries he found were small and green. He considered the leaves and grass, but even with his memory lost, he didn’t think leaves would offer him the sustenance he needed. The river, of course! He ran to its bank and searched for any sign of fish, but again, found only disappointment.

Again the thought struck him that this was definitely not heaven.

Staring into the river, the man saw that it didn’t flow constant, but would at times be still like the calm before a storm, and then rush forward as if to punish those that doubted its ability. In one such still moment, the man saw his reflection staring back. He had even forgotten what he looked like. For the several seconds that it lasted, he was able to make out a man with thick brown hair, full cheeks, and the beginnings of crow’s feet around the edges of his eyes that matched the dark blue of the river waters.

The man lifted his head as an enticing smell filled his nostrils. Grease. Fire. The scent of cooked meat. He turned upwind and, in a moment of ecstasy, he scrambled to his feet and ran toward the tantalizing scents, his mind filled with thoughts of apple pie, lemon herb chicken, and peppercorn steak. For a third time, he returned to the idea that this was perhaps heaven—what better way to please a man than to show him what he doesn’t have, and then to give it to him when he desires it most? He pushed through small shrubs and low-hanging branches, only falling once as he snagged his ankle on a gnarled root that stuck high out of the earth.

A clearing emerged ahead. As the man swept some leaves aside, he saw a small wood-thatched hut. Certain the owner of the house would be willing to share such sweet-smelling delicacies with a man in need such as himself, the man pounded on the door. He had not meant to pound with such vigor, but his muscles tensed in his excitement.

“Yes, yes, I’m coming! If that is—” a voice called from inside the hut, stopping as the door flew open to reveal his visitor. In the shadows from behind the doorway stood a large swollen man with a burgundy cloth wrapped around his waist. He wobbled, staring with a perplexed look on his chubby face, his bushy grey eyebrows raised and his thin lips cast to the left in a half smile. The hair, what little hair left, was combed over to his right in an attempt to conceal his baldness.

The man from the river lost his appetite for a brief moment, and contemplated returning to the comfort of the statue. However, the emptiness in his stomach won out.

“Sorry to bother you, but I seem to be lost… and hungry.”

“And that’s my problem?”

“No, of course not. Only, I was hoping your hospitality is as big as my appetite.”

The fat man chuckled and rubbed his foul belly, and once again the man from the river questioned his coming. However, by now the desire for food was too strong. It couldn’t be ignored, so when the fat man moved aside and motioned for him to come in, he did.

“You aren’t from these parts?” the fat man asked as he went into his small kitchen to fetch some plates.

“No, er, I don’t believe so.”

“And you are?”

The man from the river hesitated, not wanting to say he didn’t know, so he said, “Lome.”

“What sort of name is that?” The fat man poked his head out from the kitchen and chuckled. “Alright, Lome. You can call me Bron.”

The food smelled wonderful, and Lome was eager to have a bite. He asked if there was anything he could help with.

“No, no. Just sit down there on the bench, I’ll get you served.”

Lome took a moment before sitting to look around. Gaudy paintings hung on the walls, one of men relaxed against wide pillars while a lion sat on the throne, another of a half-nude woman in a crown being served by young men, and a third of bright colors and squares in shapes Lome didn’t recognize. In addition to the paintings, Bron’s walls were covered with odd relics such as vases with carvings of men fighting serpents and others of women pouring wine into streams of water.

“You like my collection?” Bron asked when he emerged from the kitchen with a platter overflowing with fruits, breads, and cheeses. “They’re my prized goods, reminding me of adventures of my past life. There was a time when I traveled this world, but now I find adventures aren’t to my liking. Living here, relaxing, that is the life for me.”

Bron set the platter on the table, left, and came back shortly with more.

“It looks very good, thank you,” Lome said.

“I could live my life with just this shack and a lovely meal. In fact, I do!”

Lome was listening, but it was hard to actually hear Bron with all his attention focused on the piles of food in front of him. It wasn’t until Bron’s mouth was full of potatoes that Lome managed to get a nod of permission to begin. As Bron chewed his potatoes and spittle flew to his chest, he motioned toward one especially appealing dish and said, “Try the lamb first. It’s divine.”

Lome wondered how anything this man came near could be divine, but he was happy to oblige. The lamb shank felt warm and greasy in his grasp, and he held it to his lips, savoring the smell before he chomped into the grilled meat. It tore off easily enough, and his tongue recognized pepper and a hint of mint. The initial bite opened a floodgate, and soon his belly was bulging with turnips and carrots slow-cooked in butter, and chocolate cake followed by rhubarb pie.

Bron watched his young guest groan in satisfaction. He smiled as Lome licked the lamb grease from his fingers. He picked up a huge slice of chocolate cake and took bites from it as Bron stared. Chocolate covered his upper lip and hands as Bron took a large bottle of port wine from under the table.

“Come, you must share this fine wine with me. Which cup do you prefer?” He motioned toward an extremely large wine glass and a more delicate, petite glass of crystal by its side. He seemed pleased to take the larger of the two when Lome reached for the crystal.

“This has been a fabulous meal,” Lome said. “Really, you don’t realize how I appreciate what you have done for me.”

“The company is thanks enough.” He stared at Lome for a moment, then said, “Woke up by the river, am I right? No memory?”

Lome nearly choked, then nodded.

“You aren’t the first,” Bron said. “And you won’t be the last.”

“What … what do you mean?”

“Just remember, others will take advantage of you if they know you’re new. But for now, eat and relax here with me.”

“And the memories, they come back?”

“I wouldn’t know. What use have I of memories, when I can live like this? Like a king!”

Lome glanced around, not quite remembering what a king would live like, but sure it wasn’t exactly like this.

Bron leaned forward, considering Lome. “If it troubles you so, there’s always the mountain.”

“What do you mean?”

“The folk at the base of the mountain, they told me once how to remember, that all I had to do was climb the mountain and find the answers at the top. But I chose the good life. I have glimpses at times, bits of memories that invade my bliss… but they’re never good. So you see, here we can be happy.” Bron patted his stomach and smiled. “I’ve been in this hut for some twenty years now, I imagine, and don’t plan on changing a thing.”

Lome looked at Bron’s fat rolls hanging loosely from his cheeks, and saw a sorrow cross the man’s eyes he had not noticed before. It vanished when Bron’s eyes found the bottle of port.

“And if I wanted to remember, I too could go to the mountaintop?”

“In theory, yes.”

“But you just said…?”

Bron smiled, and Lome noticed a hint of evil behind that smile. “You see, I don’t plan on letting you go to the mountain.”

“Wha….” Lome started, but before he could finish, his eyelids were growing heavy, the drink falling from his hand with a crash.

In his dream, he found himself atop a mountain. Men and women stood around him, watching a river that went over the side of a cliff to crash far below. Lome approached the cliff’s edge and looked down, his heart thumping at the sight of the woman statue far below. He wanted to run and jump, to be with her, but a force pulled him back, tugging at his soul.

“My love,” a voice said, carried gently on the wind. “Come to me, save me from this place.”

He knew that voice, but he didn’t remember how. The voice was gentle, familiar, and perfect. It was everything to him. He ran, fighting the force, but this time the force yanked him backward with fury. It flung him through the air so that he hit his head, hard.

The force shook him, and he opened his eyes to find himself back on Bron’s couch. A shuffling told him Bron was back in the kitchen.

Lome moved gently, so as not to make a sound. Through the window, he saw the mountain, and he knew it was the one from his dreams. Had he seen it on the way in, and not processed the image? The mountain seemed close enough to reach within a few hours of walking, and he could make out pillars of smoke which he guessed came from villages on the mountain.

His body felt weak, his mind groggy. He wanted to just stay in the cabin, to go back to sleep. However, the longer Lome sat, the more his willpower grew. Two factors contributed to his final decision to stand. The first was the thought that perhaps he would discover the secret of his background, and not knowing was killing him. The second was a line of gloomy trees at the top of the mountain, swaying as a dark morning mist caressed them—he had to know what was up there, to hear their secrets.

In spite of the wall in his way, Lome looked longingly in the direction of the statue in the river, knowing he would be heading in the opposite direction. As far as he knew, he wouldn’t see the statue again.

For now, Lome had to escape, and he had to find out what he could from the mountain. As far as he could figure, Bron had drugged him. Going out through the door, where Bron could see him from the kitchen, didn’t seem like the best option. Instead, he turned to the window and made his escape.

He moved swiftly and dodged expensive vases as he crept to the window. A quick tug, and he smiled at his luck as it creaked open—but it was open only halfway before Lome felt a pulling on his robes.

“You’re staying here!” Bron said, teeth bared.

Lome kicked and, with a burst of energy, thrashed out of the man’s grasp. He flew out through the window to land with a splash in a muddy puddle.

Bron was yelling and screaming inside, but Lome was free. He scampered off toward the mountain.

 

That’s all for now, but I may post a couple more sample chapters before publishing in July (we’ll see). In the meantime, catch up with book 1 and 2: 

Land of Gods || Retribution Calls

Or enter here to win a signed copy of book 1! 

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