*Please note that the 3D render of the cover is not to scale, this is a novella of approx. 124 pages.
Here is another post sharing a sample of my work. This time I have an excerpt from my novella titled ‘The Crimson Guild’. This book is part of the Blood Rage Series and follows the story of a boy who finds himself recruited into a guild of thieves. I hope you enjoy this Glimpse into my world of fantasy.
The Crimson Guild
by Allan Walsh
Conall knew he was going to suffer today. His mother would make him endure pain; he wasn’t going to like it, but she would make him do it anyway.
A woven chair hung from the ceiling of their small hut, suspended over plump, colourful cushions. He pulled himself up and sank into the soft rope and bright rags. As he eased his head back, he looked up at the large hook in the beam above and swung gently.
Mmm, this must be what it’s like to float on a cloud, he thought as he stretched lazily.
A small fireplace burned beside him, its warmth radiating across his bare feet.
On the other side of the room, in front of a long, stone worktop, stood his mother. Hot embers smouldered in the clay oven beside her, sending wisps of smoke up the long chimney that disappeared through the thatched roof.
“Don’t you fall asleep there, love, you’ve got work to do,” Siobhan said as she cleaned the fire pit in the stone bench. She looked at him over a pile of bowls, then ducked down behind the bench. Conall heard the clinking and scraping of bottles being moved around.
“Do you hear me lad?” she asked as her head popped back up. She stood, the wrinkles that had gathered in her green linen dress falling straight again. Her wide sleeves slipped to her elbow as she raised her arm and gazed at the pear-shaped bottle in her hand.
“Yes Ma,” he said.
“Well, come on then, it’s time for your lessons.” She turned and plunged the bottle into a barrel, filling it with water. “If you practice well, I’ll let you come and collect some herbs with me, and if we have time you can help me with my brews after,” she said, looking back over her shoulder.
“Oh, can I? Please!”
“Well, you’re old enough now and I’ve been thinking you should learn how.”
Conall jumped down from the hanging chair and lowered himself to his knees in front of the fire.
“Good lad, now start with your calming technique and then move onto a simple skin blend, just like Marla taught you,” she said, pouring the water into a pot.
He nodded, placed his hands on top of his thighs and closed his eyes. He drew a long breath, then exhaled in a slow, steady motion. Conall rested his fingers on his temples and whispered a few words under his breath. He held his hands out before him; a shadow rippled across his skin, the colour of his flesh fading, until the glow of the fire was visible through his translucent palms. Conall bit the corner of his lip and his brow furrowed. The glow grew brighter as his hands ebbed away, and then he was gone, but for the slightest shimmer in the air before him.
“Well done,” his mother said. The air beside the fireplace rippled, and he re-appeared with a huge grin on his face.
“That was the easy stuff, now let me see you shift.”
“Do I have to, Ma?”
“Yes, you do, you know you’re one of the special ones. There ain’t many that can take the changing like you can. And with people fearing magic these days, there’s so few of us practicing anymore. We can’t let our traditions die, somebody’s got to learn well enough to pass the knowledge on,” his mother said.
“I know, Ma, but I’ve been practicing since I was ten.”
Siobhan laughed. “That was only last year!”
“But it hurts, and it makes me tired.”
“It’ll always be painful, but everything gets easier the more you practice.” She clunked the pot down on the bench and looked back at him. “Remember, you need to focus your mind on something, keep calm, and never lose control, no matter how painful it is.”
“No buts, you know what to do, Conall. Just look into the flames and concentrate on your form.”
He huffed through his nose and stared into the fire—a moment passed… nothing. A crease formed on his brow; red and yellow flickering in his eyes as the flames danced up and down. His ears twitched. The crease on his forehead deepened. Stubby hair pushed through his skin. Another twitch and his ears grew, stretching upwards into long, pointy tips. His face screwed up and he cried out.
“That’s it, love, well done,” Siobhan said.
“Now shift your face,” she said.
His smile vanished.
“Come on lad, you’ve got to practice.”
“Fine,” he said, looking back at the fire. The room went silent as he stared into the flames once more. An ember leapt up with a crackle and a flurry of sparks, fading back into the orange glow. Conall grunted. The sound was followed by a deep moan as his mouth and nose began to elongate, his lips stretching tight around the muzzle that formed on his face. The moan faded into a gurgle, which rolled into a growl as wiry hair crept through his skin, covering his face in fur. He turned and snarled at his mother.
“Excellent, now turn back,” she said.
He whined in protest, looking up at her.
“Don’t you be looking at me like that,” she said, hands on hips. “Go on then, change back.”
He sniffed the air, his head tilting towards the flames. He focused on the orange-yellow glow flickering an arm’s length from his large black nose. His ears twitched, the hairs retracting into his skin, muzzle drawing back in a slow, fluid motion, inch after inch. He whimpered as the tips of his ears subsided into smooth, rounded edges. Conall expelled a large breath and sagged.
“Good work son, I think that’s enough for the day. When you’ve got your breath back you come and help me with the brews.”
“Alright Ma,” he said, letting out a yawn and wiping the tears from his eyes.
His mother handed him a small phial. “Here, take this, it’ll give you some energy back.”
Conall reached up and took the bottle. He bit down on the cork stopper and spat it into the fire. The cork fizzled in the flames as he raised the bottle to his lips and gulped the contents down. A cold tingle ran down the back of his throat, the chill moving rapidly to his stomach, making his body shudder.
“That’s the effect of the icebark you can feel. I’ll teach you how to make the tincture later, but you mustn’t take more than one dose a day or you’ll start to crave it, understand?”
“Good lad. Now, help me tidy up and then we can go gathering.”
When they had cleaned up, Siobhan grabbed a couple of small wicker baskets from a shelf.
“Come on then,” she said, handing one to Conall.
They followed the dirt path out through the hedge that hid the entrance to the village, just as they always did. Conall strode along the trail rubbing his aching ears, swinging the basket back and forth in the other hand, eyes scanning the grass around him as he took each stride.
“Over there Ma, there’s some angel glow.”
“Don’t worry about that, we have plenty of angel glow. We need some of the rarer herbs like dragonsclaw.”
She led him to a spot where the fields met the forest.
“Right, you look over there,” she said, pointing to the trees. “I’ll see what I can find over here. And watch out for the Fae, we don’t want to be upsetting the fairy folk.”
After an hour of foraging, Conall’s basket was overflowing with plants. The scent of sweet basil clung to his fingers, filling his nostrils every time he waved an arm or reached out to pick another herb. His mother ambled over to him, her long skirt brushing through the tall grass stems as she crossed the field to the tree line where he was searching.
“Right, show me what you’ve got then,” Siobhan said.
He held up the basket and she sifted through it, pushing the plants around with her fingers.
“You’ve done well, it seems you’ve learnt what to look for and where to find it. I might have to send you out alone next time and see how you do without me.”
“Can I Ma? I can do it on my own, I know I can, let me show you,” he said with a wide grin.
“Alright, alright, how can I refuse when you look at me like that?”
“Don’t get too excited, you’ve still got to get these back home and garbled. Then you can help me make up some brews for the Sindale folk. They’ll be looking for healing potions and salves in the morning.”
Conall groaned. “I hate garbling. Can’t I just help with the brews?”
“No, you can’t. You have to learn how to prepare and store the herbs as well, or they won’t be any good for brewing.”
“But if I don’t practice, I’ll never make brews as good as yours.”
“Brewing is only half the job, Conall. Well prepared herbs are the key to good brews.”
Conall looked at her thoughtfully. “So if I learn to garble properly, my brews will be better?”
“Will you help me then?” he asked.
“Of course I will, love.”
Conall threw his arms around her and squeezed. “I love you, Ma.”
Simmering Pots Can Spill Over
As the sun drifted up over the lush green trees on the horizon, a cockerel rasped out its morning crow. Conall pulled his woollen blanket up under his chin and rolled onto his side, sucking air as his ear hit the cushion beneath his head. He rubbed it, trying to ease away the soreness from yesterday’s shift.
“Time to wake up love,” his mother called from behind the curtain divider.
“Just a little longer, please Ma… ”
“Sorry love, the Sindale folk are coming this morning, I need you to give me a hand getting ready.”
“But I don’t want to get up yet, it’s cold.”
“Stop your whining and get out of that bed now, d’you hear me?”
“Yes, Ma,” he groaned.
Conall slipped his legs out from under the blankets and swung them over the side of his bed. He yawned and rubbed his eyes with one hand, reaching blindly for the floor with the other. The flailing hand brushed his brown plaid pants.
“Hurry up, Conall. We don’t have all day.”
“I’m coming,” he replied as he pulled the pants up over his thighs.
He pushed past the curtain into the living space. His mother stood behind the fire pit, stirring a steaming pot which filled the air with the scent of cooked oats and honey.
Siobhan ladled some porridge into a bowl. “Here,” she said, holding it out to him.
“Thanks Ma, you’re the best.”
A faint smile lifted the corner of her lips.
“When you’re ready, we need to finish the brews, sort them into baskets and label them. Then we’ll take them down to the village square, ready to sell to the townsfolk.”
His mother reached up for a stack of small, square baskets on a shelf behind her. The woven willow creaked as she lifted them down and placed them on the bench top. Conall finished eating and went to help, grabbing an old blanket from the shelf.
“Remember, these are the new potions I taught you. The black bottles with red corks heal burns, they’re worth more ‘cause they’ve got dragonsclaw. The clear phials with plain cork stoppers are made with angel glow. Do you remember what they’re for?”
“They kill lice.”
“That’s right, and they make your hair smooth as silk. We can always find more angel glow, so we’ll just get what we can for them. They’re very popular and should sell quickly,” Siobhan said.
“And what are the clear ones with the red corks?” she asked.
“They get rid of spots and rashes.”
“That’s right, they’ll go quickly too. You should know all the others by now.”
It took the best part of the morning to label and sort the potions, making them ready for sale. The sun was high in the sky when they left the hut, baskets stacked atop each other so they could carry them all. Baskets that creaked as they passed the village huts; bottles inside clinking with every footfall along the path towards the village centre. Conall smiled at a little girl watching from a gabled doorway. She gave him a shy wave and ducked back inside the mud-brick hut. As they approached the great oak in the village square they saw a few of the villagers had already set up stalls for the market. They stopped and eased the baskets down onto the dirt.
“Go and lay the blanket out over there,” Siobhan said to Conall, pointing at a space on the ground.
“Ah, you made it then, Siobhan,” Beth, a plump, rosy–cheeked woman called to them from under the oak. “Don’t set up there, lad, you’ll be in the sun all afternoon. Come set up beside me in the shade.”
Conall looked at his mother and she nodded her approval.
“I didn’t expect to see you here, Beth, I thought you were helping with the tilling today,” Siobhan said as Conall unrolled the blanket.
“I was meant to, but I swapped with Feanna so I could try and sell what’s left of me lucky charms and smudge sticks. Gave her first pick of me charms in return.”
“Well, I hope we have a good day, the Sindale folk have been a bit strange lately.”
“I hope they don’t get worse, ain’t nowhere else close enough to trade with.”
“Not sure we’ll be trading with ‘em much longer. Seems to be less of ‘em coming these days and half of ‘em don’t buy anything.” Siobhan picked up one of the baskets and began arranging the potions on the blanket.
“Can’t say I’ve noticed.”
“They brought a sick child to the village last moon. Marla didn’t have any salves prepared, so she used her healing magic to save the boy. She said the mother was so scared, she nearly left the boy behind in her haste to leave.”
“It’s a worry, people being strange like that. I’d of thought they’d see more magic in bigger towns,” Beth said. “Anyway, you’d better hurry up, it looks like the Sindale folk are starting to arrive.” She gestured towards the path that led to the village entrance. Siobhan looked around to see a small group heading towards the market. “And I’d be careful not to use any magic around them for the time being.” Beth added. Siobhan nodded.
“Conall, take this for me, love,” Siobhan said. Conall took the basket his mother proffered as the townfolk approached. He crouched down and continued to unpack the phials.
A woman in a white dress approached and stopped in front of them.
“Looking for anything in particular?” Siobhan asked.
“Yes, I’m after some of your healing salves, you know, the ones that get rid of spots.”
“How many would you like?” Siobhan reached towards some bottles.
“I’ll take five, please.”
A stocky, bald man with bushy grey eyebrows pushed his way through the small crowd that was forming.
“What salves are you looking for?” Siobhan asked with a smile.
“I don’t want no salves,” he said with a dismissive wave of his hand. “I want the recipe. How much will it cost me?”
Her smile disappeared. “I’m sorry, the recipe isn’t for sale. If you made it wrong—”
“I don’t want to hear excuses, just sell me the recipe.”
“No. It’s not for sale,” she said, crossing her arms in front of her.
“Why should you lot be able to make your own healing salves, while we have to walk a whole day to get them from you?” he said, jabbing his finger towards Siobhan. “You should give us the recipe and let us make our own.”
Conall stepped in front of his mother. She straightened her back and took a deep breath. “As I was trying to explain, it’s dangerous if you don’t know how to mix them. You could end up poisoning yourself.”
“Bulldust, you just don’t want to share!” he snarled, his face reddening as he clenched his jaw.
Conall’s body tensed, his knuckles turning white.
Allan Walsh writes Fantasy and Horror. If you’re looking for something new to read in these genres, why not check out his books here
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