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Gondell's Quest: Destiny

Gondell's Quest: Destiny

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Gondell's Quest: Destiny

Length:
669 pages
10 hours
Released:
Apr 28, 2017
ISBN:
9788826080031
Format:
Book

Description

An unlikely Hero. A Sword of Power. A race against time.

The epic story of an unsuspecting hero, dragged into a battle that all thought had been already been won.
Believable and heart warming characters that will develop into friends. A rich and beautifully described world, filled with mythical beings.
The story grips you from the first page.


Long before the dawn of man, peace reigned in the world. True evil did not exist. Or so it was thought, for the ancient evil had been defeated long before. But even the wisest can make mistakes, for a new darkness from the north began to spread across the land, insidiously, secretly, a dark and terrifying leader rising from the ashes. Gondell Lenzen had never considered himself special or important, an ordinary Gnome, leading an ordinary life. Yet, a hidden and long forgotten family heritage drew young Gondell into a chain of events that would bring the free world to the brink of disaster. As the forces of darkness mass against the armies of the Guild, only the legendary Keeper can bring certain victory. A fact that both sides know well.

The Keeper became the key.

A small team of misfits may prove to be the free worlds only hope as they struggle against the greatest odds to snatch Gondell, the Keeper of legend, from the clutches of the Dark Lord and his minions. An unlikely group. Elf, Ogre, Dwarf and Nymph partner with a Ghul, a desert demon in a desperate race. A race that they cannot afford to lose.

Gondell's Quest. An epic adventure into the world as it was before the rise of man. A story that races from deep and inhospitable deserts to the frozen lands of the north, from the high seas to the highest mountain peaks. A titanic struggle between the forces of good and evil. A story of friendships forged and loyalty won, strategies revealed, deception, fear and doom.
Released:
Apr 28, 2017
ISBN:
9788826080031
Format:
Book

About the author

Andy Lang was born in the north west of England in 1965 and worked in the early years as an engineer in an agricultural manufacturing company. Moving from the United Kingdom in the late 1990's he subsequently spent many years in the entertainment industry in Cataluña, Northern Spain and property sales in Andalucia, Southern Spain. After several years workings as an Independent Financial Advisor in East Africa, he now writes full time. Over the years he has travelled extensively and has lived in Spain, the west of France, Brazil, Kenya and South Africa.He currently lives with his wife and their young sons in Uganda.


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Gondell's Quest - Andy Lang

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Gondell's Quest

Book One - Destiny

Andy Lang

Copyright:

Layout Copyright © 2016 by Andy Lang. Published 2016 by Andy Lang. Ebook design by Andy Lang. Cover art by Andy Lang.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the authors permission.

Prologue.

Long before the dawn of man, peace reigned over the land. And, as those eternal creatures that still remain today will remember, it was an era of tranquillity and equilibrium. Gnome and Dwarf, Elf and Centaur lived in harmony, Hobgoblins and Ogres laboured industriously side by side with the woodland Fairies. The ancient darkness had been defeated and resigned to faded memory, just as modern man worries not over the period in his own history named the Dark Ages, being simply a time known , but no-longer considered, or of any great concern!

True evil did not exist. Or so we thought. But even the wisest can make mistakes... as I did. Even I could not predict the doom that hovered over our ordered world, or the peculiar outcome. But I do not wish to spoil my tale by rushing ahead. Start at the beginning, travel to the middle, and hope that the end is bright, that is the best tale to tell. And so I take it upon myself to record the events of my long life err memory fades and the now is robbed of the then, for it is a crime to forget, to lose fact to failing memory, or to allow history to be written by the young. History is the domain of the old, we were there, we lived through those times, some of us died shaping the world of today. So my patient listeners, heed not the tales of man. Listen to my story... and learn how it all began.

In order to enlighten younger folk. Now do not misunderstand my words, be you young or old by your own understanding, in my eyes you are all infants. I talk of young in time, not young of age. I alone am old, ancient beyond reckoning, I alone recall the time before man, before machinery, industry and war. So listen well my children as I peel away guesses, assumption and bare faced lies, Listen as I tell you the truth, for fact has faded concerning the original folk that inhabited your lands. I hear the words myth and fable, legend and superstition trip so easily from ignorant tongues. Oh how much you have forgotten... and how much you have never known.

As with every good story it is important to introduce the actors that will amuse you with their jests and mishaps, or bring you to the edge of your seats as peril looms. So forget what you think you know and listen to my words, only then will you truly know the facts.

I feel it only fair that I introduce the humble Gnomes first as young Gondell features so prominently in my tale. I have always found it amusing to see pure coincidence align with forgotten reality, for it is true that Gnomes love to fish, or angle , as they preferred to say. But push aside your preconceptions of the Gnomish race, forget the portly plastic figure that sits dangling his line at the side of your garden pond, for only the bushy beard that it sports bares any similarity to the people themselves.

I never kept the company of them myself, finding Gnomes to be tedious and rather narrow minded little creatures, contented only with their own small affairs and caring little for the doings of others. But let me set aside my own prejudices and tell you a little about the Gnomish race.

Although Gnomes are most contented when sat at table, a fried, or roasted, or stewed fish on their platter, or filleted and sautéed fish, or fish smothered in rich sauce, or fish served battered with chips, in fact, fish prepared in any manner suits the Gnomish taste. Forgive me, I digress, but I hope now that you understand that fish are prized above all other fare in Gnomish cuisine. Yet despite spending much of their waking lives either eating, cooking or seeking fish, Gnomes carry, in general, no weight, they are not a portly race, quite the opposite in fact. Gnomes are, or were, agile, one would almost say in modern parlance that they were athletic. I say were because it has been many lives of men since I last encountered them, but they are a tenacious breed, so I am sure that there are still a few hiding away from prying eyes.

So how would I recognise a Gnome if I should encounter one? I hear you asking yourselves.

And I would reply. It is all in the whiskers! If you should chance upon a bearded and handsome faced youngster sat beside a river or pool, a youngster of diminutive stature who would barely reach the belt of a man, then rest assured you have met a Gnome.

A Gnomish girl? I hear you ask. And my reply. She would be slight of figure, boyish almost, but her beauty would touch your heart. But assuredly you would not meet her. Gnomish fathers were famous for their devotion to their daughters, and their zealous protection. No, you would not chance upon a Gnomish girl wandering alone. You may spy her as an unmarried maiden escorted by a chaperone, but as a married Gnome she would remain in her husbands cave, hidden from sight.

It is a fact that Gnomish husbands were even more protective than Gnomish fathers, not that their wives became prisoners, quite the opposite actually, their being content to remain hidden from the world. It is seen as a dereliction of duty should a Gnome fail to shield his wife from the eyes of others. It was a system that other races struggled to comprehend, but tradition and culture, once engrained, are usually difficult to change.

Gnomes lived in caves, without exception. Generally dug deep into a quiet river bank with a deceptively small and unassuming entrance. Should a man be small and lithe enough to crawl inside, he would soon be given pause as the narrow tunnel dipped down after a very short distance into still water. Every Gnome hole employed the same design, the sudden dip down would only continue for a short space before rising again to open into a spacious entrance hall. An ingenious design that served dual functions, not only did it exclude unwanted visitors, the flooded passage in effect also served as a larder. Fresh fish always literally on the doorstep.

Having never been inside a Gnome hole, as they were commonly known, I can only rely on hearsay and rumour, but to the best of my knowledge they were homely enough abodes. The walls clad with polished stone and the grand halls supported by tree roots. Gnomish architecture relied, I am informed, on the support of living roots, this is why the best place to look for a Gnomes entrance is along a sheer river bank, right on the waters edge beneath the shade of a mature tree. Or so I am led to believe, I have never felt the inclination to look myself.

So what of a Gnomes temperament? A question that has no definitive answer. Were they brave and adventurous? I would say a guarded no. Inquisitive? Yes, to a degree, but no more than the urge to seek out a better fishing hole. Would a Gnome seek risk and danger? My answer... absolutely not.

It may appear dear listener, that my low opinion of Gnomes in general may have clouded my dialogue to a small degree, and this is an observation that I will not deny... however, one Gnome inhabits a special place in my heart, old and dry as it may be. Gondell not only surprised me but also gave me hope that the Gnomish race could someday rise above their self servitude and achieve greatness, maybe my hopes are in vain, but at least one of their race deserves some small recognition.

Fact - such a small word. So small that along with truth it appears to have been mislaid over the long years. History often favours the bold, and the bold in their turn decide the recorded flow of what they prefer to be accepted as fact.

I speak of course about Fairies, beautiful and helpful creatures, granting wishes and fluttering around the woodlands on shimmering gossamer wings. Utter nonsense of course. Fairies are, always were, and I am sure, always will be spiteful and dishonest. Never trust a Fairy, except if your intention is to spread malicious gossip or do wrong to others, for these are traits held dear by their kind. Fairies are in general considerably smaller than Gnomes or Dwarves, and contrary to popular belief, they do not possess wings. It is true that in the old days their race could fly, but it is an ability beyond the Fairies of today. Of the modern understanding much of what is recorded in myth is false, but they do, in keeping with modern belief, inhabit the deep forests, living in elaborately woven homes built high up in the treetops for they are expert climbers. Fairies are skilled with their hands crafting both functional and beautifully elaborate items from wood of all kinds, musical instruments of Fairy build are prized even more highly than those crafted by Elves, and that is praise indeed. I need not tell more about them at the moment as their true nature will be revealed as I recount my tale, only then will you, dear listener, begin to truly understand their hearts.

Let us move swiftly on and consider Dwarves and Elves, so different in appearance yet so similar at heart. Staunch and just, one would call the heart of an Elf. Stout and loyal would fittingly describe a Dwarf. Of the fairer folk that inhabited your lands, Elves would without argument be described as the fairest. Not of the same stature as man, but easily taller than any of the other ancient folk, the Elves would reach a man's shoulder height, rarely growing much taller, slight of build and fair of face they smiled far more than they frowned. Even during the darkest of days an Elf would not be parted long from his smile. As a race: ever optimistic, prone to moderation, almost temperance, an Elf would never be tempted to excess, except of course in music and laughter, both of which they enjoyed in equal measure.

Moderation and Dwarf are not words that sit happily together. Prone to over indulgence the average Dwarf could eat to the point of bursting, a fact clearly shown by their rotund physique and the stout leather girdle worn by every member of their race, women included. They would also refuse to leave an inn until a freshly broached cask of wine or beer had been emptied. But it would be unwise to dismiss them as merely drunkards and gluttons, the Dwarves approached eating and drinking as they did every other aspect of their lives, with total commitment and passion. When their minds were set to a task nothing could sway their determination, as hard and durable as steel they could endure great hardship, dogged persistence their ally when all around them quailed at the journey or task ahead. Of all the free peoples of old the Dwarves possessed the most warlike disposition crafting heavy weapons of iron and steel. Aside from the ceremonial double edged sword that always hung from a loop on their girdles their most favoured weapon would arguably be their forged iron battle hammer, although some preferred to carry an axe of similar weight. But other than competitions held between clans on feast days, they rarely found the occasion to test their arms and steel in anger.

I must take a few moments to mention the Hobgoblins, or 'Hobbies' as they were commonly known. Not to be confused with Goblins themselves, who are a breed apart and no more than distant cousins, the Hobgoblins integrated well with the fair folk being a people finely adapted to domestic service. In fact, it can be stated that Hobgoblins were happiest when cleaning or cooking, hence the name Hob...Goblin, often found polishing, cleaning or cooking at the kitchen hob. In the old days, they were free spirits, moving as they wished, often entering homes unbidden during the hours of darkness, but not entering with any ill intent in mind... No, a hobgoblin would enter a home with the specific intention of dusting or ironing or cooking, vanishing before first light having prepared a filling breakfast, or leaving behind a pile of freshly washed and pressed clothes for the householder. Although many resented this nightly intrusion, the Hobgoblins were generally accepted and their efforts rewarded with small gifts and kindnesses.

But not all was well with these diminutive people, their larger cousins from the north sought to exploit, and over the course of many years, a huge percentage of the Hobgoblin population became enslaved, only to be released from bound servitude with the gift of new clothes, an occurrence that, I might hasten to add, was very rare amongst their cold hearted and mean spirited Goblin masters.

And now, let us consider Ogres and Trolls. So similar in many ways, yet poles apart. I speak of course about temperament. They can be counted amongst the greatest successes and greatest failures of the fair folk, (meaning predominantly the Elves). Both races inhabited mountainous regions in the old days, both untrustworthy and unpredictable. After the great war had ended the Elves, as was their way at the time, determined to bring both races into the light of civilization, the task appeared daunting and probably doomed to failure, yet unperturbed they had sent envoys. Embassies sent to the leaders of the Ogres had been met with suspicion, but their advances accepted in the spirit of friendship, and gradually, over a period of many decades, the Ogres of the mountain slopes adopted the trappings of refined and civilized behaviour, in other words, they stopped eating every visitor to their lands. Eventually, they were admitted as a race into the Guild of Free People, having served a probation of many centuries without lapsing back into their old ways.

The Troll's however were a completely different story. During the darkest years they had openly collaborated with the forces of darkness. Creatures born of rock, and with wickedness in their stony hearts, they had laboured for the Dark Lord, excavating and enlarging his deep and dark dungeons. They became his gaolers, and his formidable security, for the darkness is ever suspicious, rather trusting slow witted Troll's than his own peoples.

There are many other races that inhabited the world in those days, some touch our story only briefly, and therefore merit little attention here, others such as the Sirens, Naiads, Wulver, Sprites and so forth will be introduced more fully as they enter the tale.

There remains then only one other race of note. The Wizards, and we play no small part in this tale. I say we , because I have not yet introduced myself. I am Orrin, and I am a Thaumaturge.

A strange name, many will say, as my order has slipped from common memory over the long years. So what is a Thaumaturge? I hear you ask. It is probably best to describe my order as 'workers of great wonders or miracles,' we have the ability to harness and direct all good and pure energy. Of course there are many different paths that the various orders of Wizards may walk, some for great good, some for great evil... and for some there is a more difficult path to follow, a path wreathed in shadow, a fine line between the light and darkness. But I need say no more at this point, for now it is time to take you back to the not so distant past, relatively speaking of course. The war to end all wars had faded into memory, with over one thousand years of peace passing. So let your imagination transport you back to the times before the rise of man, the time before your own short recorded history began. A time of magic and myth.

Chapter 1

Spring came early breaking winters icy grip on the land. Dangling icicles that had adorned the branches of the old willow tree that stood beside his favourite pool now dripped steadily. Drip, drop, drip, the rhythm constant and soothing. The last sprinkling of winter snow fought valiantly, clinging to the sword shaped leaves of early blooming snowdrops, but it's battle was doomed to defeat as it melted under the soft golden suns caress.

Gondell turned his face toward the hazy sun and sighed, a sound of deep contentment, the land around him appeared to sigh in concurrence with his happiness, rebirth and renewal could now begin, and optimism bloomed in his heart. The long dark dreary days of dried provisions and preserves were now behind. A good job too, he smiled as he pictured his diminished larders, dried fish is good, rabbit and venison are also very passable when naught better is on offer... but now spring is finally here!

On the calm river a solid raft of ice floated slowly by and Gondell smiled, the thaw is here at last, so now to business. He took a final glance at the sun and tested the breeze, just a quick sniff and a taste, from the south, just the first promise of warmth... and wood smoke, he sniffed again. A cooking fire for sure... and do I detect something wonderful roasting? He began to salivate as his stomach growled, not that he was particularly hungry, he had dined well on a rich and herby stewed hare with lumps of fresh crusty bread torn from the still warm loaf. His hunger arose from the tantalising aroma wafting past him on the breeze. Fresh fish, he chuckled, and without further ado he disappeared back into his tunnel and plunged into the submerged passage that led into his subterranean home.

The thaw has come in perfect time, he thought as he stepped from the water and grabbed a towel from a row of hooks attached to the tunnel wall, some towels were hanging specifically for guests, but the fluffiest and finest were always reserved exclusively for himself.

Perfect time indeed , he observed, his stock of fresh fish being not simply low, his flooded larder was bare, and had been for quite some time, not one silver flash of fin and scales had dashed away as he swam through. Time for something fresh, he decided as he busily hunted through his tackle cupboards, sorting poles and lines, hooks and floats, determined to take advantage of the first decent fishing day in months.

Now it may be assumed that a home underground would be dark and dank, but not so a Gnome hole. Warm, cosy and bright are the words that Gondell frequently used to describe his own personal abode. It is an art long lost, that is if man ever knew the process, but Gnomes warmed and illuminated their homes with lamps and heaters that were fed directly from the abundant tree roots that also acted as supports for their vaulted ceilings. Lamps affixed to the thick vertical columns of root burned with an even golden glow as they fed on the constantly flowing sap, and heaters at the base generated adequate warmth to keep the stone clad rooms both dry and cosy.

Gondell loved his hole, inherited from his father, and his father before him, The place has been in my family forever. he would tell admiring guests. How his ancestors had managed to secure such a prestigious stretch of the river bank had been lost in the mists of time and to the best of his knowledge his family had never been particularly famous or wealthy.

Most likely just good luck at the time, he often replied when the question entered envious conversation, but it was not a matter that occupied his thoughts too much, I am comfortable and want for little , he would content himself, I have no great need for explanations!

If Gondell had known the illustrious heritage that the name of Lenzen carried he would have given family history more than a cursory thought, but he was simply Gondell Lenzen, the owner of a desirable and inherited river side hole in a better stretch of the bank.

Selecting his favourite pole, lovingly sanded and freshly varnished during the idle months of ice, he strode through to his entrance hall and carefully propped it against the wall alongside his woven willow kreel, I have everything now except bait , he nodded and began to wonder if the ground had thawed sufficiently for worms to be stirring, I doubt it, he muttered, But bread will be just as good... and I can exchange a few slices for a decent supper!

Returning to his bedroom Gondell set his damp clothes on the drying rail above a wide heater and rummaged through a spacious wardrobe. As a race that inevitably get themselves drenched every time that they enter or leave their homes, Gnomes have clothes in abundance. Not that being wet is any discomfort to them, and they rarely feel the cold, they simply love clothes. For indoors their attire is generally bright, reds being a favourite. Gondell felt most comfortable relaxing in his carved wooden rocking chair wearing soft tan leather breeches, an embroidered white shirt and his scarlet silk robe, but of course it was considered ostentatious to wear such trappings outdoors.

And so Gondell selected black mole skin breeches that reached half way down his calves, cinched tight at the bottom with leather laces, a drab waterproof olive shirt and a stout yet flexible leather waistcoat dotted with numerous pockets. He held the sleeveless vest aloft and studied the emblem embossed on the breast pocket. This strange mark was the only part of his heritage that ever caused his wondering to become more active.

Never forget this mark. his father had told him as a young boy, I cannot explain it's special significance, but my father told me the same thing when I was a boy, and his father told him, and so it has always happened in our family.

So the emblem of an ornate sword surrounded by a wreath of oak leaves became a mysterious feature of his life, along with the promise that he had made to pass on the knowledge to his own son when the time was right. I need a son first, he chuckled, Before I start worrying about that promise. Yet tradition demanded that he continue the memory, scant in detail as it was, through the line of Lenzen. I wonder what it really means , the thought drifted into his mind but only fleetingly as the desire to catch his supper usurped his inquisitiveness.

Gondell passed the small cave that housed his boat but dismissed the notion of an early launch. I don't need it today , his thoughts ran to the hours of maintenance that he should have done during the dark days of winter. But I never felt the inclination , he told himself quickly attempting to justify his months of inactivity, winter is such a dreary time, I shall enjoy the work more with the sun on my back.

He didn't need a boat for what he had planned, a few relaxed hours watching a red painted cork float drifting past on the steady current as he sat comfortably on the river bank.

Whistling a merry tune, one that he had made up himself, and was really quite proud of, Gondell climbed a short flight of steps cut into the steep river bank. What a glorious day for fishing, he announced to the world in general as he stepped onto short rabbit-cropped grass and picking up the main path that led the full length of his little hamlet, and strode eagerly toward his favourite hole, hoping that no others had felt the same urge. I want to relax, not chat, he told himself, baulking at the thought of company.

Now, to an inexperienced eye, the hamlet of Hendle upon Risser would remain unnoticed, no more than a casual investigation would reveal simply a series of holes in the red clay river banks, but look closer and the tops of small chimney stacks would become obvious peeping out of the turf above, the only outward sign of habitation. But this is how Gnomes liked things, quiet and private, to live their lives away from prying eyes.

And so, Gondell Lenzen. Of number sixteen River View, (not very original I know, but I did warn you that Gnomes are rather narrow minded), in the fair and gentle county of Hevershire, after little more than ten minutes walk, settled himself down upon his little willow kreel and cast out his line.

Hidden from view in a tall stand of reeds, rather shabby looking reeds, the old growth from the year before, Gondell waited patiently as his float drifted slowly by. This is the life , he sighed contentedly, and lifted his line ready to cast back upstream.

Hey ho Gondell. A voice broke into his peace and tranquillity, I should have guessed that the first bit of decent sun would have brought you out.

Of all the bothersome nuisances , he sighed before turning with a wide smile, Tindell. What brings you this way? he replied, his heart sinking as he noticed the pole in his friends hand.

Need you ask, laughed the young Gnome as he began to scramble down the bank sending clumps of earth and stones tumbling down amongst the reeds and splashing into the quiet water.

Well, that's scared away all the fish for miles around , groaned Gondell silently as he pushed aside the thought of fresh fish for his supper. So what's the news? he asked politely as Tindell slumped down at his side.

This and that, replied Tindell as he threaded a hook.

I'm surprised he ever catches anything , thought Gondell as the younger Gnome shuffled and crashed around in the reeds looking for his bait box that had slipped down almost to the waters edge.

But if you had bothered to come to the meeting last week, you would know everything that's going on. Quite a discussion we had, that's for sure!

Oh aye, replied Gondell, secretly wishing he hadn't asked the question, he avoided the regular village meetings for a reason. Nothing but nonsense and gossip , he thought, suppressing a shudder as he remembered his last evening in the village hall. Except the village didn't have a hall, Hendle couldn't boast such an extravagance, not like the cavernous meeting place beneath a huge and ancient elm tree in the town of Rissermouth downstream. The inhabitants of the village used a clearing in the woods nearby. Quite cheery on a summers evening, he admitted, but only a fool would go outside in the middle of winter to hear old Mayor Wisherton pontificating .

By all accounts there's trouble brewing in the north, continued Tindell, That's the rumour anyway, how much truth there is to it, I know not.

There is always talk of such things, Gondell replied, concentrating hard on his float as it passed by, But what happens up there is no concern of ours.

Mayor Wisherton says that there could be war brewing.

Old weasel Wisherton just makes these things up to sound important, snorted Gondell. He wasn't on the best of terms with the mayor since a heated dispute over access to the best stretch of the river, the mayor thinking he could mark an exclusion zone. A stretch reserved for county officials only, the wily mayor had announced. Gondell had won the debate with a unanimous show of hands when he pointed out that Hendle only had one county official.

Maybe your right, Tindell nodded, But it sets you thinking, what with all the disappearances and all!

Disappearances? questioned Gondell as he re-baited his hook with a pinch of crust.

So they say, Tindell nodded, Lot's more have vanished over the winter, even old Nobbler, up and left without so much as a word... and he always seemed so happy here.

Now that is news , thought Gondell, I never expected that of Nobbler . Does anyone know why they're leaving?

Only rumours, Mayor Wisherton says they're going north, back to their old lands, back to the Goblins.

Well that just proves what a fool he is, chuckled Gondell, shaking his head, Go back to being slaves! Anyway, the Goblins got chased away centuries ago, from what I've read there's nothing up there now except for ice and snow, and a few wolves and bears. he added with a small shudder.

" I don't know about that, but all the Hobbies are going somewhere . That's for sure, he isn't making that up."

True enough... it's a mystery A mystery that Gondell didn't need to solve, he had never had a Hobgoblin in his service, so their sudden disappearance troubled him little.

A mystery sure enough. replied Tindell as he cast his line, the big float landing with a resounding splash.

No fish for me tonight , Gondell sighed deeply, a sound of resignation as he glanced at his young friend, a decent enough lad , he acknowledged, but so clumsy!

The fair weather held, and very soon no trace of the winter remained upon the land. Spring bloomed in all it's glory, woodland glades were filled with nodding bluebells and delicate white anemones. Fresh tender grass sprouted in the meadows and hares gambolled and play fought, filled with exuberance, the long winter behind them, spring rejuvenating the land, and soft eyed does on their minds.

During the two weeks since the weather finally broke Gondell had been busy. Dragging his small sailing boat out onto the sandy shore before his entrance hole, he laid out a series of wooden trestles and overturning the craft began to sand. Stripping the old paint away, rubbing and scrubbing until natural wood shone out, the deep lustre of seasoned oak, the feel of it warm under his loving fingers. This is not simply a boat, it's a work of art! Made by his father, only the finest materials had been used, let others paddle about in their pine hulled skiffs , he laughed as he stroked along the fine grain, but this beauty will still be sailing long after those others have rotted away to nothing .

And his pride was fully justified, for there were few boats afloat on the Risser that matched his own.

The same routine every spring , he nodded to himself, and the same thoughts! Such a shame to hide this wonderful wood . Always he felt a deep regret as he applied the first coat of bright blue paint, blotting out the deep grain, but it is necessary protection .

And so, one fine morning in late March, Gondell loaded his freshly painted and varnished pride and joy with everything that he would need for a day afloat, and with a feeling of optimism in his heart, pushed out into the river and let the current carry him toward Rissermouth, and the wide lake beyond

Chapter 2

Dark thunder clouds loomed ominously on the near horizon but Gondell chose to ignore the signs. He was under that spell that afflicts all fishermen from time to time. The fish were biting with a reckless abandon, practically sacrificing themselves to Gondell's hook, and while they were in such a fey mood he would take full advantage. Make hay while the sun shines , he laughed quietly glancing at the rapidly advancing storm, not that the sun will be shining for long now!

I should really head back to shore, he told himself just as his float bobbed below the calm surface of the lake sending out rings of shimmering ripples, but I have time for just one more. His catch for the day was impressive, roach and rudd, carp and bream, most destined for his smoker as he sensibly planned to restock his winter larder, but one fat bronze flanked carp promised him a roasted feast to celebrate such an outstanding catch.

The cork float bobbed again. Wait, he whispered, Patience Gondell. Another twitch, it's tasting my worm, this one is cautious , he told himself as his concentration focussed on the bright red cork, just one more before I turn for home.

Gusts of wind began to race across the lake, their path marked on the surface like an invisible finger drawing through the calm water. Time to go, he announced sadly, It would have been nice to catch another. he added with regret as he turned to gaze at the distant shoreline and the river mouth that marked his path home. I've drifted a long way , he suddenly realised with the first stirrings of alarm, it's going to be a tight squeeze to get back before the storm hits!

The float bobbed again, more determined, a positive bite, almost there, he grinned as the ominous clouds disappeared from his thoughts, he's being so cautious... maybe a big old tench. His optimism grew as the fat carp suddenly didn't seem half as appealing, it's place on his plate now taken by his favourite of all fish. So beautiful, and so tasty, his stomach rumbled in anticipation of the treat in store if he could maintain the patience to allow the cagey fish to overcome it's suspicion and finally take the bait.

And now I have you. he cried in glee as the float drifted almost casually below the surface, no-longer a hesitant bob the bright cork disappeared from sight as the big fish began it's run. Striking quickly he set his hook and instantly understood that his prize would be worth the wait. Power surged through the line and bent the flexible pole in his hands, he could feel the struggle in the depths, he felt the panic as his prey surged towards deeper water. Big. he declared happily, very big by the feel of him , he admitted as small doubts began to taunt his mind, would his line be strong enough? Would his pole stand the strain? The supple willow began to bend into a tight arc and Gondell instantly relieved the pressure, I have to give him time to fight, I cannot rush this , he warned himself as the real threat of breakages loomed, if I push too hard I will lose both fish and tackle.

Oh my, how big are you? he gasped as the boat began to move, towed by the monster of the deep. I've never had one this strong before, his thoughts quickly attempting to identify any catch capable of dragging the weight of his boat. No, I'm not that lucky. he declared as the image of a sturgeon forced itself into his mind. He would be the envy of the whole community if he could reach home with such a rare monster aboard. Caviare. he whispered but drove the thought away as he fought the urge to fight harder, whatever it is, I have to give it time to wear itself out, he can't last so long dragging me... be patient Gondell.

The boat began to rock gently as it slowly cut through the water, the once calm surface now rippling with small waves, the precursor to the gathering storm.

Now, had Gondell been thinking clearly those waves would have registered as the final warning, the sign to sever his line and retreat to the safety of the river. But of course he wasn't thinking clearly, only dreams of bowls brimming with salted fish roe filled his mind, he could almost taste them as he nursed the pole, applying only enough pressure to offer resistance, slowly tiring his powerful prey.

The far shore began to appear as a thin dark pencil line in the distance and the first faint alarm bells began to ring as the waves grew in both height and frequency. Gondell felt torn, the light faded quickly as a canopy of angry black clouds closed in above his head, muttering words of frustration he slid his ever present filleting knife from its leather sheath and with a trembling hand reached forward, can I give him just one more minute? His blade paused, the finely honed edge a fraction from the taut line, One more minute, he gasped as greed conquered sense and the first fat drop of rain splashed onto his upturned face, Just a little longer, he's getting tired, I can feel it.

Every fisherman understands when the battle is won, that moment of realisation, the struggle is still there but the strength and conviction have waned. You're finished now! he whispered to himself as the line slackened, slow and steady now , he cautioned as he took up the slack and felt the slightest of tremors in the solid weight that he had begun to drag up from the depths.

Very big... how heavy are you? he grunted as he hauled, the mass below rising painfully slowly as his pole bent under the strain, Very soon now. he murmured as the red painted float broke the surface quivering on the tight line. Gondell licked his lips as the outline of a huge tail fin flipped deep in the murk, still too deep still to identify the species, but clear enough for him to understand that his catch would be worth his patience, Oh my, you are huge. he chuckled happily a split second before tears of frustration flooded his eyes as the taut line suddenly shot clear of the water. Damn it, damn it, and double damn it! he swore as the massive fin swirled the water liberating a stream of tiny bubbles, Of all the evil luck.

For just a second frustration almost forced Gondell to dive in after his lost catch, so close he could almost touch the tantalising feast, almost taste it's flesh, but the wind lashing the canvas sail with a loud snap focussed his thoughts. I've left it very late, he groaned as glancing over his shoulder he saw that his own home shore had drifted from sight, only the bright sunshine glinting on the rolling waves remained of what had started as the perfect fishing day. Now ahead the once calm lake was being beaten into a frenzy of foam by the powerful swirling winds and an oppressive darkness had engulfed his small craft.

Stowing his pole quickly Gondell cast aside the memory of the one that got away and set his small triangular sail, and cursing himself softly for being foolish turned the boat by paddling hard, his target the brightness that would lead him home.

That massive fish would prove to be a turning point in Gondell's quiet and comfortable life, the catalyst that set a chain of momentous events in motion, but of course Gondell knew none of these things, and so intent was he on outrunning the storm that he never noticed a scale covered hand slide up from the churning water and grasp the gunnel. So complete was his shock that he barely had time to draw a breath as the small boat was overturned and he plunged head first into the icy lake.

Cellie had followed the endeavours of the small creature that bobbed on the surface of her lake home for most of the day, such was her boredom.

With a flick of her broad tail she had followed his thin line down into the murky depths and giggled as a wicked idea entered her mind. It will offer a little distraction if nothing else, she thought as her plan clarified. Of course she intended to kill the creature, that would be the grand finale, but she had no intention of simply drowning it quickly as she had done so many times before, I will play with this one , she decided and turned the crude hook over in her hand watching the impaled worm wriggle feebly.

How stupid fish are! The fact that they could be so easily duped by such an obvious and alien device always amazed her. She had watched many fall to his bait as the day had passed, often she had aided his efforts by shepherding the ravenous shoals to his line and delighted in their frantic struggles to escape. But now a shadow crept over the bright surface, the outline of scudding white clouds swiftly replaced by a blanket of grey and black. It is time to finish this, she decided and gave the line a playful tug imagining his absolute attention fixed on the bobbing red indicator. Are you excited now? she asked as she swiftly tugged twice more, teasing, knowing his anticipation would be growing. From the watery depths she glanced up and watched the darkness approach, I think it is time now for you to catch a surprise. malice flashed in her vivid green eyes as she carefully looped the line around her hand several times and began to swim toward the middle of the lake. She felt his strike as her hand jerked, that's it, set the hook , a smile spread across her lips as she began to struggle, tugging and twisting the line around her lithe body, feeling the tension of the line on her scales. Now I shall take you for a ride. she whispered and gave her broad tail a gentle beat ever mindful of the weakness of the slender line, I must not break it , she warned herself, she wanted to build his hopes, feed his fantasy, only then would she gain pleasure in his death. To take him from the pinnacle of joy to the ultimate despair appealed to her spiteful nature, she much preferred to kill the happy, and found little pleasure in drowning the depressed, sad creatures that may secretly welcome her final embrace.

Deeper into the storm she towed the small boat and soon felt the action of the waves acting on the line wrapped around her body, I can play a little longer , she decided aware that eventually the creature would admit defeat and cut it's losses when faced by the danger posed by the tempest closing in fast. I like this new game, she sighed contentedly as she decided the time had arrived to move to the final chapter, I shall enjoy playing this again .

You think you've won, she chuckled as her struggles became more feeble and the line tightened around her waist as the creature above began to haul, but I don't intend to make it too easy for you , she sighed as she rolled out of the coils keeping a tight grip and steady tension with her hand. Let me excite you with my beautiful tail , she giggled as she met his frantic hefting, and with a spiteful grin released the hook from between her fingers watching it shoot to the surface before playfully diving toward the depths.

Her long blonde hair billowing she beat her tail rapidly cutting swiftly through the water, far enough she decided glancing at the dark hull behind her and rose swiftly to the surface, her head breaking through just in time to watch Gondell shaking his head as he studied the empty hook.

It is quite a pretty little thing, she decided as she cast her gaze onto his face, or it would be without that beard, maybe I should spare it! The thought was only passing and her grin widened as she watched him dip a paddle over the side and pull hard, so you think you can go home? I have other plans for you , and silently she slipped back beneath the surface edging closer to the outline of the hull. Say goodbye. she chuckled and gripping the side of the small bobbing craft easily flipped it over before tearing a hole in the oaken hull.

Arms and legs flailing wildly the creature fought to breach the surface, that's it, catch your final breath she laughed before grabbing an ankle and tugging swiftly down. Cellie's heart soared as she looked into the creatures eyes and watched them focus, it's expression changing rapidly from confusion to terror as the full impact of it's predicament crystallised. I am the last thing you will ever see. she spoke aloud, You are lucky, few have ever seen my beauty, and taking a handful of his beard she began to drag Gondell struggling frantically toward the depths.

It has strength , she admitted, they have usually drowned before now . Cellie paused and glanced at the contorted face of her victim, You can't hold your breath forever, she said, Relax and let the lake take you, don't fight the inevitable. she shuddered as his eyes widened and the pain blossomed, Yesss, she hissed quietly, This is what I love the most. Her final words little more than a gasp as bubbles rose from his mouth, now open wide in a silent scream, Feel the water flooding into your lungs air breather. she released his beard and shivered sensually as his death throes excited her to the point distraction. Oh I will definitely play this game again , she groaned just as her eyes settled on the motif embossed on his waistcoat pocket.

Horror crossed her face as her mirth and arousal disappeared in an instant, and grasping his hands she surged powerfully to the surface, Stupid, she screamed at herself, "Oh Cellie... what have you done? He is the last, was the last. What am I going to do now? she wailed in utter despair. Broaching the surface she rolled the limp creature onto its back and began to pound the chest frantically, her wails pitiful, her sobbing heavy with remorse, I've killed the last keeper."

Breathe, she screamed, Please breathe. her fists hammered rapidly, Please forgive me, I didn't know who you were. her tears streamed as her pounding became less intense and the full impact of her actions dawned, I knew the last keeper was one of these creatures, she sobbed, But why did it have to be this one?

Her heart leapt as Gondell gasped, a rapid shallow breath followed by violent choking, his eyes flew open wide as he retched water from his lungs, Oh Thank you, thank you, thank you. Cellie sobbed repeatedly as she caught the limp body again just as Gondell lapsed back into unconsciousness, alarm flooded her features but relief blossomed swiftly as she witnessed his chest rise before another cough voided the remaining fluid in his system, she held her breath before relaxing as his breathing continued steadily. I have been so lucky, she sighed deeply secure in the knowledge that he would survive her spiteful attempt to end his life, I would never have forgiven myself. They would never have forgiven me.

Rolling onto her back she gently laid his body on her chest, her arms wrapped around him, so warm , she marvelled in the heat that radiated from him into her own cold flesh, a sensation that she had never experienced before, It's actually quite nice , she chuckled and began to slowly fin toward the distant shore. I will leave him by the water, leave him in his own element, it would be safer than putting him back into the boat, that is if it was still afloat .

And so the siren saved Gondell and set him on a course that changed his life forever.

Cold shingle bit into Gondell's face as he woke with a fire raging inside his chest, Where am I? He wondered as his mind gradually cleared, his feet were cold... and wet , he realised, why am I lying face down on a stony beach?

Suddenly memories flooded back and summoning all of his strength he struggled to his feet and in panic staggered a few paces away from the water. Vivid green eyes filled his mind, long flowing blonde hair, scales, and a face of such beauty that it stopped his heart, beautiful until she smiled , he shuddered as he remembered the viciously sharp teeth that she had revealed as she laughed, her laughter ringing out clearly a second before his lungs filled and his world had come to an end.

What was that? he questioned out loud as he sank to his knees and stared out across the now calm water, the storm having blown itself out.

I am a siren, the reply to his question drifted up from below the water, the voice like sweet music even if slightly distorted. My name is Cellie, and I am truly sorry, I didn't know who you were.

Gondell shuffled nervously further from the lakes edge as Cellie gradually rose, her head breaking the surface with barely a ripple.

A siren, he gasped in disbelief, I didn't think they were real, I mean I didn't think your kind existed, he stammered as she drifted closer to the shore. Gondell gazed in wonder at her pale skin, her upper body milky white flecked with only small patches of shimmering silver scales, her waist cleared the surface and he saw the scales spread, she is half fish, a true siren .

" Then it is your tail that I saw?" he questioned and saw her slowly nod.

I am sorry that I tricked you, she whispered, I was playing with you, I should have been more careful.

That is how you play? snorted Gondell regaining a little composure and confidence, he knew that on dry land he would be safe, Drowning innocent folk is your idea of fun?

Cellie shrugged shyly, It is what we do, it's our nature. she replied quietly, But if I had known. she sighed, But you are safe now, she added with a small smile.

Where is my boat? demanded Gondell, And which side of the lake am I?

Your boat is gone, Cellie cast her gaze down onto the still water. And as we were closer to this shore I have brought you to the forest side, I do not know what you call this land in your own tongue, we simply call it the shadowland.

Perfect, Gondell sighed in resignation, No boat, miles from home... and to add insult to injury, I lost all my fish, and I'm hungry.

Cellie shook her head sadly, I have wronged you, is there any way that I can make things right in your eyes?

Gondell thought long and hard, I could demand that she transport me home , he debated, but in all honesty I don't trust her... what is the guarantee that she doesn't get me back into the water and drown me again?

Fish, he declared, Bring me a tench and I will consider a small part of your debt to me paid. who better to catch one, he thought as his stomach rumbled. I can start a fire and with a full stomach I can begin the long march to the docks, from there I can catch a boat home.

Gondell had a small blaze started before Cellie eventually returned, luckily he always carried a small fire stone in his pocket and the white hot sparks soon caught in the tinder he had foraged on the edge of the dark forest. Pine logs crackled merrily as silently the siren resurfaced and tossed a still wriggling golden green tench far up onto the shore.

A nice fish, he admitted, I've never seen one as big he thought suppressing a wide grin, he had no intention of showing excessive gratitude, I'm in this fix because of her, and I still don't trust her despite how apologetic she appears to be .

So how many more of your kind are in the lake? He asked glancing back out over the water. But his question never received any answer. Cellie had gone.

Gondell felt strangely alone as he crouched beside his small fire as evening set in, It's much later than I had imagined, he told himself as the tree's shadows lengthened toward the water, I don't fancy wandering around in the dark, best if I sleep here and start fresh tomorrow at first light . He poked the glowing embers with a stick and watched sparks drift into the darkening sky. If I'm staying here tonight I need more wood he told himself and busily set about collecting sufficient fallen logs to feed his fire throughout the approaching hours of darkness.

Night had fallen before he was satisfied that his collecting had yielded sufficient fuel and dropping a heavy log onto the flames he stretched out on the springy grass that marked a boundary between water and trees, A glass of bramble wine would not go amiss now, he announced to the silence and smiled, "It's been quite a

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