One more story to the list:
The thatched roof was consumed in a loud roar of dragon fire, and the wooden frame of the small home caught aflame and creaked and shuddered. Though the low walls were reinforced with stone, in a burst of heat the wood combusted and filled the small living area with smoke. Ysabeau ducked aside as a charred support beam cracked and dropped by her head. The fire roared louder than the screams of the townsfolk outside, and the heat burned through her thick woolen kirtle.
Heart pounding, her eyes darted for Onfroi, her one-year-old son. He had crawled into the doorway, though stopped and began crying before setting upon the hard dirt outside. Ysabeau rushed to pick him up and sped through the doorway as the roof collapsed behind her. Her heart ponded as she caught sight of the burning homes and bodies of her neighbors. The charred body of Vaquelin, the blacksmith, recognizable only by the tools in his belt, lay face-down in the road, trampled by a panicking mob that fled to the outskirts of the village.
Ysabeau looked up as a gust of air gave breath to the fire. The dragon’s great wings beat overhead. There was nowhere to hide. The houses were burning, and some had already collapsed. Gosse, the cooper, shoved a young woman aside and tried to stuff himself down the well, but the opening was too narrow and his horrified face was nearly sufficient revenge for his blocking the one spot in town that might be safe from the dragon’s wrath.
Ysabeau had many friends among the crowd, but her responsibility was to Onfroi. She slung her wailing child over her shoulder.
“We’re going to find papa,” she whispered in his ear. Her husband, Roland, was gathering loose wood from the Lord’s forest. No smoke rose from the trees, and Ysabeau thought of no reason the dragon would burn the forest. It should be a safe place to hide. Her eyes moved to the Lord’s Keep. It too looked untouched. Why would the dragon pick on the poor townsfolk, when the Marquis sat in his stone fortress? Yet the dragon now swerved that way, and she could see the glint of helmets as archers and soldiers lines the battlements.
Time to run. Ysabeau kept to the long grass along the side of the dirt path that led to the forest. It was flammable, but deep enough she could drop on her stomach and hide should the dragon turn around. She patted poor Onfroi on the back and hummed Quand je bois du vin clairet, to which the boy loved to jump in his little dance. Now, it seemed to help little to ease his crying, but it somewhat relieved her mind of worry.
She reached the trees and took a deep breath as the dragon and the keep fell out of sight through the thick trees.
“Roland!” she called as loud as she dared. “Roland! Where are you?”
She walked into the protective cover of the canopy of trees, and felt somewhat braver now that she wasn’t visible from the sky. She trotted as fast as she dared without giving Onfroi too much of a jostle, and soon heard a soft whistle. It wasn’t a signal, but rather a disjointed melody. Roland had never learned to hold a tune.
“Roland!” she called again as she spotted him scraping dry branches from the ground with his crook.
He turned his head, and his face turned to a smile, then a question. “What’s wrong?”
The question fired Onfroi into a wail.
“A dragon attacked the village,” Ysabeau said. “Vaquelin’s dead. Our home is gone.”
Roland looked up, though there was nothing to see through the thick branches above.
“Over here.” He waved her to follow as he rushed along a worn trail through the trees. Branches had been cut away to provide easy passage, and the packed earth along the narrow path prevented any grass or foliage from sprouting.
Ysabeau eased her too-tense clutch on Onfroi as she followed. Roland soon hopped over a smooth log into a shallow trench. Ysabeau stepped over and slid on the slick slope. Roland grabbed her elbow and eased her to the bottom, which was littered with bones and rotting apple cores. Ysabeau knew the place, as the men used the edges of the shallow pit to drink and laugh as they ate their meals while foraging for wood.
A great roar pierced the air, and Roland wrapped Ysabeau in her arms as she knelt in the moist filth at the bottom of the trench. As he held her, she covered Onfroi with her own body. Then the air fell silent, and Ysabeau glanced up.
“Is it over? Did the Marquis kill him?”
Roland shook his head, and then Ysabeau heard the heavy swoosh of great wings flying low over the clearing. Again she curled over Onfroi and held her breath. Her heartbeats, which usually thumped along without her notice, now thundered like war drums. She felt Roland’s arms tighten around her, and his face pressed into the crook of her neck. She prayed as the great wings beat unseen overhead.
There was a cracking sound as branched broke from the trees, and a series of thuds. This is it. They were found. Ysabeau kissed Onfroi on the head for what she supposed to be the last time.
Only, after several seconds anticipating the heat of dragon flame to consume her, there was nothing. Roland gently shook her, and she opened her eyes, and peered from the trench.
There was a sliver of blue sky above, where the branches had broken away, but no dragon. Dead wood lay strewn along the forest floor. This would make Roland’s job easier, though it no longer mattered, as they no longer had a home or a hearth in which to kindle a fire.
Roland bent over and picked something shiny off the ground.
“What is it?” Ysabeau asked.
Her husband flipped a gold coin in his fingers, his mouth open. It was an écu d’or, a gold coin. She had only seen a few in her life, but the image was burned in her memory.
“That will feed us for a week,” she said, a glint of hope in her eye. “At least we needn’t worry that we’ve lost our food in the fire.”
Ysabeau set her still-weeping son on the forest floor as she crawled on her hands and knees and felt along the earth with her hands. Roland stooped over the ground, his hand rested on his knees, as he squinted and raked at the soil with is fingers.
Her left middle finger ran over something hard and flat.
“I found one!” she grinned. “This will replace the table.”
“Three here!” Roland shouted from the base of a nearby tree. “New dishes and shoes.”
“I’ve found enough for some clothing and sheets!” Ysabeau laughed. Fear had gone its way.
They continued the search, and coin after coin found that it would be no trouble to replace the possessions they had lost in the fire. And then, the trail of coins led to a small chest, a wooden box with black iron trim, cracked open at the base of an oak tree. Coins spilled forth in a small pile.
“The dragon must have dropped it,” Roland muttered. “Dragons are mad for gold. He’s made off with the Marquis’ riches, and dropped this in his departure.”
“Should we return it?” Ysabeau’s heart beat heavily as she firmly decided they should not. They had, after all, lost everything.
“We can’t go back to the village,” Roland frowned. “If we return the treasure to the Marquis, we still have no home. Will the Marquis reward us with a new one? Who can say?”
“He won’t,” Ysabeau insisted. “Remember when Monsieur Leclerc left that hole in the field after removing the old stump, and one of the Marquis’ men rode his horse into it, and broke its leg? He was beaten, and his wife taken, and his possessions claimed by the Marquis in payment. He is a wicked man.”
“With this money we could find a new home,” Roland said. “An even better one. Larger. Room for more children, and we’ll never worry about food again! But the Marquis may have seen it fall. Men could be on the way to reclaim it.”
“Hurry, then.” Ysabeau slipped out of her apron and spread it flat on the ground, and Roland propped up the lower half to the chest, which was sufficient to hold some of its lost contents.
“We could hire a nurse,” Ysabeau said as they picked up coins by the handful and dropped them in her apron.
“Yes,” Roland nodded. “I reckon we could. I suppose we could buy some land, and a herd of cattle.”
“A few farmhands to help with the work,” she added. “And a cook.” She knew her way around carrots and potatoes but longed for delicious meals like the dinner that the Marquis provided for the townsfolk every May.
Ysabeau’s heart swam with thoughts of what they could buy with all this money. Fine food and clothes, some beautiful art pieces. Perhaps she could become a patron for her own artists. A sculptor, a painter, a topiarist.
Her apron now had a wondrous pile on it, though many coins remained in the broken chest. Ysabeau groaned as she hoisted her apron off the ground. Coins were heavy in this quantity, but she gritted her teeth and folded her apron tightly around the sides. Roland likewise struggled with the cracked chest, though with some fine contortionism worked his arms into a position to carry it.
There was a loud cry from the ground.
“Onfroi,” she said. “I can’t carry him.”
“His crying will give us away,” Roland added.
“He’s better off here,” Ysabeau mused. “The Marquis will find him, and raise him.”
Roland nodded. “Yes. Who knows how far we have to travel before we can settle down? It’s no life for a baby.”
Onfroi, his face red, crawled forward.
“Stay, little one,” she cooed. “Help will be coming for you shortly.”
She tore her eyes away as she stepped back. She did love her son. More than anything. But there was nothing for him in the life of travel and excess she and Roland were soon to enjoy. A world too large and unsuitable for such a young child.
Here, he would be safe. The Marquis would see to it. Hadn’t he, after all, taken Mademoiselle Berger’s bastard son into his care when she died?
And with her thoughts turning back to her newfound riches, she followed her husband into the dark paths of the forest.
Denzig swooped back over the trees. With the rest of his treasure safely buried on the large island in the middle of the river, he was free to scour the area for the chest he had dropped. Smoke still rose from the human keep and village, and the flames would keep them busy enough to leave him alone.
He circled the area where he thought he felt it drop. He hadn’t seen it fall but could pinpoint where he was when he felt his load suddenly lighten. He descended slowly, trying to find a clear path to the ground, but seeing nothing suitable charged through the top of the trees.
It was shady in here, which he enjoyed, but a bit of a tight squeeze between the trees. Forests were no place for fully-grown dragons. He tended to avoid them, as elves got pretty uppity with fire-breathing dragons poking about near their flammable homes, and he didn’t want to antagonize the Elvingaard.
His wings dragged through the branches as he sniffed the air for his lost gold. One of these days he needed to learn to shrink himself. Being large was fine for fighting and pillaging, but too often created challenges as he tried to navigate along the ground or through subterranean caverns, where the best gold was often stored.
He sneezed, singeing a bush with a burst of flame. There was a stench overpowering the smell of gold. A human stench. He peered at the ground and sniffed at the soil as he circled his landing spot. It couldn’t be too far. His head snaked through the undergrowth until he found an area covered in dead branched. There was a long stick with a curved end. Some sort of human tool. Here sat a bound pile of dead wood. The smell of gold poked through, and it seemed to follow the trail of human stink. He crept along the forest floor, snaking through the trees.
Had humans absconded with his treasure? No matter. He would track them easy enough. He sniffed the ground for more detail. Two humans, headed into a deeper part of the woods.
A third human, nearby. Denzig followed this scent first, as it was strongest, and it was accompanied with a horrible but somehow endearing wail. There was a little creature here, on all fours. Was it a human?
No. It was young, and didn’t look terribly human. They walked on two legs, didn’t they? Perhaps it was a shaved fox. But the smell was certain. Perhaps baby humans were like tadpoles to frogs: almost a different creature entirely.
What should he do with it? It wasn’t large enough for a meal, and something stirred inside Denzig’s chest. The little thing was defenseless. A baby. No one to care for it.
“Come, little one,” Denzig said as he scooped the infant in his great claws. “Other humans came by here. Let’s return you to them.”
It wasn’t a long journey, but it was a difficult one as Denzig had to wade through the thick trees on only three legs as he held the crying baby. Soon he came upon a clearing, and a mound of dirt covered in sod, and a pair of filth-stained bodies peering from behind it. Their stink nearly made Denzig vomit, yet as he approached them, the little baby began to reach out.
“Mama!” it cried.
Denzig cleared his throat. “I believe you have found something of mine, and I have found something of yours. Let us make an exchange, and I shall be on my way.”
“We haven’t found anything of yours,” said one.
“That isn’t our baby,” said the other.
Denzig looked down at the infant, who still reached out for them. “It certainly thinks you are. I can smell my gold on you. You can’t hide it. Return it and take your baby.”
“We haven’t stolen anything from you,” the first human said again. Denzig could see now this was likely the mother, as she stood from behind the lump of sod. She bore the telltale protruding chest of a bipedal female mammal. She was trembling, but in an absent-minded show of courage, backed toward a patch of freshly-turned soil.
“You have my gold buried behind you. I can see its resting place, and I can smell it. You cannot lie to me, human. Now take your infant.”
“That is no baby of ours,” said the man, whose voice shook as he too stood. “And even if we did find some gold in the forest, it was the gold of the Marquis, not yours, who stole it from him.”
“And he stole it from you,” Denzig said. “He taxes the labor from your own backs. I steal what he has stolen.”
The woman wagged her finger. “Which you just said he stole from us! This is our gold. You’ve said it yourself.”
Denzig huffed a spark of flame, and both humans let out frightened gasps and backed a half-step.
“Fine,” he grumbled. “I’ve got most of it, anyway. Keep it. Just take your baby.”
The pair looked at each other. “That isn’t ours.”
Denzig could see they were lying, and he was puzzled. Didn’t humans tend to care for their own young? Their babies were otherwise helpless.
“Just take him,” he insisted. “You can care for him. You certainly have the money.”
“Take him to the Marquis,” the man said. “Let the Marquis raise him.”
Denzig shook his head. “I’m not going back there. We didn’t part on great terms, you see. Why don’t you want your baby? It’s very cute.”
It was cute. Babies were designed to be so, he knew.
“You take him, then,” the mother said. “We need to get out of here. Do we have a deal? We take the Marquis’ money – which you’ve admitted belongs to us – and you keep the baby.”
Denzig had often considered getting a pet, but he didn’t know much about how to care for one. One of the lizardfolk might be easier to raise. Those rascals were ready to go as soon as they hatched. Humans looked more like elves, which took years to raise to independence.
“Fine.” He nodded. He supposed it wouldn’t do to leave the poor child with this sort. What kind of parents would abandon a helpless infant?
Well, the expressions on the two human’s faces were sickeningly smug as they began digging up the gold and silver coins with sticks. Denzig took another glance at the child.
“Does he have a name?” he asked as the two madly shoveled their treasure into their spindly arms.
“Onfroi,” the woman shouted without looking back at Denzig.
Well. So this was her baby. Denzig couldn’t bear to let these two run off with his treasure while they abandoned their own child.
And so, with a deep breath, he fried them both and took the baby and the treasure for himself.
It has occurred to me I won't be able to post all my short stories, as some of them will reveal spoilers for the books. They will, however, eventually be included in a book. For now, I am just going to post stories that occur before the time of Elf Mastery.
This is just a little creation story. Not sure how strong it is, but let me know what you think.
Terra drew her stone hand through the clear liquid that flowed over the barren ground. Water, Nun called it. Unlike Terra’s motionless and reliable Earth, the Water flowed as Nun directed it. Sometimes the playful Aether scooped it into the invisible essence he called Air, and then the Water fell in droplets that made Terra’s Earth soft and pliable. She called this Mud, for it was worthless until Mariel’s Fire chased the Water out and it again became rigid.
Frustrated she often was with Aether, she did enjoy the coolness of his moving Air. This new sense, Touch, invented by Terra herself, had been meant to help her analyze and adjust the sediments in the rocks and soil; but it had its side effects, often leaving her lethargic in the sweltering heat. Mariel, always working in the domain of Fire deep below the Earth’s surface, often cast up molten rock as she experimented with smelting the stone into various forms. Her work made Nun’s water heat and bubble.
Even now, the Water roiled near the shore, catching up sediments of Earth in its disruptive currents. Terra cupped her hands and scooped some of the liquid for a closer look. What was this, among the swells of liquid and silt? Something swam here. It was not intelligent, nor even could be called life, but had ordered itself beyond anything she or the others had created. <<>>
What are you doing?
Nun’s thoughts bubbled from the depths as his head breached the waves. He had created for himself a monstrous body, which waved and swelled and flowed like his Water. He towered above Terra, yet he had no true size or form, and had not bothered with the appendages Terra had given herself to work the stones and sands.
She held up her cupped hands. Something uncreated forms itself in the water.
Waves crashed against Terra’s legs as Nun moved toward her. The top of his crest lowered for a closer look, and a great maw opened as he pondered the sediment.
Impossible, he decided. Order does not create itself. Cease what you are doing. We already risk drawing Chaos’ attention.
Terra set the remaining water into the shallow waves lapping at her feet. I have done nothing. And do not worry about Chaos. Momus protects us from his sight.
Nun grunted. Momus was quick to take our side. He may be just as quick to betray us.
There was a laugh from the darkness overhead, and Momus’ jovial voice echoed through both their minds. His words dominated most others, and though his words were often sharp, they were usually honest.
Like you, I am no slave to Chaos. While your desires for Order are childish, it is no right of Chaos to deny you the cheap pleasures of your physical forms.
If you tried you would understand, Terra insisted. These bodies allow us sight, and sound, and touch. Our connection to the universe is amplified a thousand times.
Nun’s maw opened wide and a torrent of water rushed inside, only to shoot out the back of his cresting wave. Do not forget taste. It provides an intimacy with matter unknown to the other senses.
Terra had not yet experienced taste. Nun had told her of it, but she was hesitant to go about shoving things inside her body.
Momus radiated disapproval. This work has overtaken your thoughts. You have separated yourselves from the rest of us. Your minds twist only toward these new pleasures, and you neglect the pursuits of Pure Thought.
Nun’s great body shook the seas around him. There is no end in Pure Thought. No goal. We produce change while the rest of you stagnate in perpetual monotony.
Which is fine, Terra interrupted firmly. She didn’t want to antagonize their only ally. What can we do for you, Momus?
The great Momus descended over the water where Terra had released the strange essence.
I detected a new creation. A disruption in the fabric. You have gone beyond the four elements in our agreement. I come to negotiate new terms.
We have created nothing, Nun snapped.
Terra cast him a warning glare but was careful to soften her tone before addressing Momus. Nun speaks true. Matter organizes itself into more complex forms, but it is not our doing.
Momus’ laugh echoed again. Mariel carries out her experiments deep below. Her fires alter the earth and stir the waters. Perhaps the results are accidental and unintended, but they are a result of her ceaseless tampering. I can only hide so much from Chaos’ notice.
I will summon to her. Terra stood tall. We shall learn together of her mischief.
Terra focused the weight of her feet into the ground. She could feel the vibrations of Mariel working below, and a light tremor stirred Nun’s waters as she sent ripples of stone deep below the surface into the fiery depths. Unlike Water, which flowed and rippled freely under Nun’s command, Earth grumbled and complained as she forced its obedience. It was stubborn stuff, though it was that same stubbornness that also provided its strength and reliability.
Done, Terra said as she relaxed her physical form.
Momus, having no physical form, was invisible to Terra’s eyes, yet her own life-essence felt his as it hovered over the edge of Nun’s water. He said nothing, but his thoughts focused on the miniscule creations inside until a spray of hot ash burst through the stone crust and a jet of flame shot into the sky. Mariel, her form towering over Terra, though not so high as Nun, drifted toward them and shrunk herself sufficiently to hide her body from the spray of splashing Water, which she hated.
What news? Mariel asked. I greet you, Momus.
Momus’ attention was finally drawn away from the shallow water. You stir the elements into life, he accused. If you continue, I fear I will not be able to hide you from Chaos.
Mariel was not chastened, but rather became excited. Matter has so much potential! My fires have stirred the earths below and created Minerals of shining beauty. There is great potential in Order! Enough potential, I think, to rival Chaos in strength.
There was a still silence. Terra didn’t dare admit her mind leaped at the prospect of deflecting Chaos’ strength, and she didn’t doubt Nun felt the same; but Momus, while an ally, was still on the side of Chaos in his opinion of Order.
You are a fool if you think to challenge Chaos, and I will not keep your secrets should you not cease. There was no more laughter in Momus’ thoughts. Your experiments will draw Chaos’ eye and condemn us all.
Terra wished to be able to communicate her thoughts to Mariel without Momus receiving them. There must be a way to communicate through these physical forms. But, for now, she couldn’t speak freely.
Listen to Momus, she pleaded. We need his protection. Enjoy your Fire in quiet.
Mariel grinned as she peered into the water. Don’t you see? Momus, look. Order increases itself. Molecules are forming and becoming more complex without my interference. Chaos is undone. It is only a matter of time before Order overruns the universe. I shall set a great fire in the sky, that shall warm the whole of your Earth and Nun’s Waters and create such Order that Chaos can never challenge it.
Shut up! Terra’s thoughts were urgent. She looked up at Nun, who was peering into the shallows where the Ordering swirled at his base.
Mariel is correct. Nun’s crest lowered until it just peaked over the Water. With sufficient support we might undo Chaos. We need only convince the others to join us. Iapetus will surely join us, and Atum. Perhaps Mnemosyne can be persuaded.
Erebus will never betray Chaos, Momus protested. Nor his siblings. The others tremble in fear. You speak of treason. I must associate with you no longer, nor will I hide you from Chaos’ eyes.
Terra felt Momus withdraw. She looked at Mariel. Fool! Your curiosity and careless speech have both condemned us.
No! Nun said. There is power in Order. I feel it moving and working in my Waters. Vast tools are at our disposal.
We are meant to rule here, Mariel said. Chaos has long ignored the power at his feet. He has failed to learn, to grow, to strengthen himself. His power and knowledge stagnate as ours grow. I shall find Aether, and command him to seek those who might support us. A trial of body will convince any of them.
Terra had to admit that experiencing a physical form was a powerful tool to convert the others. They only needed to convince them to try it.
What other choice did she have, anyway? Nun had already sided with Mariel, and Aether would do anything she asked of him. Terra agreed, as well, but feared the consequences. Yet, now, she would be found guilty by association.
Very well, she agreed. Send your agents. I shall shape the earth into mountains and valleys, should we require places to hide.
Nun again rose into a massive cresting wave. I shall spread the Ordering throughout the Waters, so all Matter may witness what is do be done.
Mariel rose into the Air as her flames burst broad and bright. I shall increase my activity below the surface and seek assistance in creating the great fire in the sky. We must work quickly, but I assure you, Terra, Chaos will not destroy what we have created here.
Terra stood motionless as Nun disappeared into the vast Waters, and Mariel dove into a fissure in the Earth’s crust. Well. It was done now. Terra looked at the vast barren Earth in front of her, and with a new sense of focus and urgency, and no small amount of trembling, she cleaved a long and narrow valley that stretched into the horizon.
Findaway has just started offering storefronts for the sale of audiobooks. It has an upfront fee ($99, though I got it for $75) but it also offers 70% royalties. So a fee with the hope of good return with sufficient sales. Won't take too many sales to recover that cost, though marketing is still up to me so we'll see how it goes. On the positive side I'm one of the first adopters, so often a good sign if the new program takes off.
The link to my storefront is: https://shop.authors-direct.com/collections/bryant-reil
I've been writing a bunch of short stories to fill in some details about the world and characters of Elf Mastery. They are a bit rough, and subject to change, but thought I'd post them here! Feel free to leave feedback! I'll probably include them in a future release that includes all 3 books, as well as a glossary.
Kyla sat on the wide stump Mom and Dad used for chopping wood behind the shoe store. She looked up at her room, which extended in the tree branches overhead. She caught a glimpse of a squirrel as it leaped from one branch to the next, but it soon disappeared in the leaves. That was the most exciting thing that had happened all morning.
Mom sat on a blanket a few yards away. She was, as usual, fussing over Bit, who clutched a handful of rotting foliage he must have grabbed from the forest floor. He was trying to shove it in his mouth, and Mom was trying to pry it away from him. Mom won, of course.
Kyla ran her fingers along the center of her scalp, to part it in the center, and each hand grabbed a side and pulled her long strands so each fist clutched a horse-tail. She pulled it under her chin, so the long parts hung down her chest.
“Mom!” she called. “Mom! Look. I’m a dwarf.” She made her voice as low as she could manage. “Ho, hum. An ale for a pittance, and a yarn for your time.” She didn’t know what it meant, but Lofin Redbeard said it in The Last Lord of Dander’s Run. Mom always used a deep voice when she told it.
Bit, trying to reclaim his lost treasure, opened hand closed his hand in the direction Mom had thrown it. He grunted, but he didn’t cry for once, but he was squirming and Mom maneuvered her arms around him so he couldn’t escape. She didn’t give Kyla a single look.
Kyla hopped down from her stump and dropped on all fours. She crawled toward Bit, who smiled. She grabbed his clean hand and placed it in her mouth.
“Hey, Mom!” Her voice was muffled as Bit’s fingers grabbed at her tongue. She gently clamped her teeth over them. Bit laughed, but then his face soured, and he yanked his hand away and started to cry.
Mom sighed. “Leave your brother alone.”
“But I bit Bit! See?”
Kyla grabbed his hand again, and Bit’s face brightened, and he smiled as she put it back in his mouth, but when she lowered her teeth against his skin, he again began to cry.
“I said stop it!” Mom snapped. She slung Bit over her shoulder and gently patted him on the back.
“He likes it, though, Mom,” Kyla explained. “He always laughs when I do it. He cries so I’ll do it again.”
“I’m a bit busy, Kyla. Why don’t you go play with Doran?”
Kyla wrinkled her nose. Doran was a neighbor boy, and a few years older. He was friendly, and sometimes gave Kyla berries, but he often hung about with Ulan, who was mean and said Kyla was short.
Mom only ever wanted to spend time with Bit nowadays. Kyla jumped to her feet, trying to look as angry as she could. “I can play by myself.”
Her show of frustration went unnoticed as Mom sang in her soft voice into Bit’s ear.
Well. Kyla didn’t need Mom. And she didn’t need Bit. All he did was eat and cry and poop. She walked around the family’s oak tree to the front of the shop. No one was inside. Dad was in the shed skinning rabbits. She looked at the array of shoes along the shelves and ran her hand along the backs of them as she circled the room and tried to whistle. She hadn’t figured it out, just yet.
She climbed the ladder into the common room. There was a large pot of water by the window, and a small table set with two grown-up chairs, and a stool for herself. Only three seats. Nothing for Bit, because he couldn’t even eat proper food.
Her bedroom was out the door to the left, which led to a narrow wooden walkway. It sloped upward to her room, which was the second highest in the house. Only her parents slept higher. Bit didn’t have his own room yet, but when he did it would be on the low branch that jutted out just over the shop.
She pulled herself from her window onto the thick branch that supported her bedroom in the oak tree. She looked down at the roof of the shoe shop, which was covered in curling cedar shingles.
There was a smaller branch that curled at an angle from above Kyla’s room. It wasn’t strong enough to support a grown-up, so Kyla often climbed up to escape her mother’s unjust anger. It was Bit who had set Kyla off, after all.
She pulled herself onto the branch and slid toward the trunk. She supposed she could get higher yet. Mom would have to be impressed if Kyla could get above the starling nest that rested in the crook of the branch over her head. It was still thick enough to hold her weight, she supposed. She slowly stood, clutching at the tree as she shuffled her feet against the trunk and reached up to test the strength of the wood. She pulled down to ease the load of her weight onto it until she was confident it would hold her. Satisfied, she took a half-step away before pulling herself up so as not to disturb the little nest.
The branch bent as she pulled her right leg over it and sat upright, straddling the branch until she could get a good enough grip to swing her left leg over, so that her legs now swung over one side.
“Hey, Mom! Look at me!”
Kyla held up her left leg as she balanced, her arms outstretched as she teetered back and forth.
Mom didn’t even look up as she fussed with Bit. “That’s nice, dear.”
“Mom!” she shouted.
Mom looked to the side, and then back at Bit.
“Mom! Up here! Look how high I got!”
Kyla waved her arm and leaned to the side to give Mom a better view, but this shifted her weight. Her eyes froze wide open as her hand returned to its position clutching the branch as it cracked. It didn’t snap, not entirely, but it bent sharply and her bum slid along the slick bark. She shrieked as she tried to grab the part of the branch above the break, but then she dropped. Her stomach tightened and her breath escaped as she dropped onto the branch below, but now she was off-balance and rolled backward. Her hair whipped over her head as she fell backward, fighting to find a grip as she fell, but this branch was too thick for her small hands.
She screamed, expecting to fall back onto the roof of the store, but instead of falling straight down she swung and dangled as something pulled hard on her scalp. She reached up and grabbed fistfuls of hair, trying to ease the pressure as her body swung back. But then gravity won, and there was a sickening tear as she fell again, this time hitting the sloped roof of the shop below as she rotated forward. She hit with her knees first, and then fell onto her stomach, and rolled off the side of the roof and landed on her back.
“Phil!” Mom’s voice rang through the trees, though it was dulled in Kyla’s pounding ears. Warm fluid oozed through them, and Kyla stared in horror at her hair still swinging from a branch above, a bloody mass hanging on the end.
There was a lot of fuss, and screaming, and Bit was crying, but Kyla’s mind couldn’t piece together any meaning. She was bald, now, and her brains must have fallen out, for when she touched her head it was soft and tender and burning and her thoughts were scrambled and falling out.
Someone picked her up, and then she was being jostled as she stared up into the trees, which were moving quickly.
She closed her eyes, just for a few seconds, but then she was jostled awake and a blurry woman was looking down at her.
It wasn’t Mom. Where was Mom?
“Kyla, can you hear me?”
It was Maia Pelinai, Doran’s Mom. Kyla hoped Ulan wasn’t here, because he’d make fun of her for being bald.
“Where’s Mom?” she asked, though her voice was weak and dry.
Mom appeared next to Maia and knelt. Dad stepped behind her, holding Bit, who was crying again.
“Wester’s fetching your hair,” Mom said as she stroked the palm of Kyla’s hand with her finger. “Maia’s going to sew it back on.”
“Tea’s ready,” Maia said, and she shuffled away.
Kyla looked at Mom, and Dad, and then at the Pelinai’s ceiling. Her head still burned, a bit, but otherwise she felt okay. She would be okay. They could sew her hair back on.
Maia brought her some tea, and Kyla sat up with some support from Mom. She took a sip, and warmth flowed through her body. Yes. She would be fine.
Only, she wasn’t fine. As the warmth of the tea flowed through her body, so did a wave of pain. Her scalp burned, and her knees felt broken, and her chest and back hurt, and there was blood on her hands and arms and chest. She could feel sticky ooze on her face, though mother fought her exploration with a warm cloth.
She spat the tea back in the cup. Why would they give her this? One of them said something about shock. Kyla lay back on her bed and stared at the ceiling.
There was a banging sound, and Wester ran into the room with a mass of hair and blood. Someone – Kyla couldn’t tell who – forced her back into a sitting position placed the bloody mass on her head. Kyla flinched as someone dabbed a cloth at her head, which made it burn even more.
Strong arms lifted her, and a soft voice, Dad’s, whispered in her ear. “You can do this, Kyla. You need to hold still. We have to clean the wound so you don’t get infected. Then we need to sew your scalp back together.”
Kyla shook. Her numbness continued to melt away, so the pain burned deeper and fear enveloped her. She shook and buried her head in Dad’s chest. He made a slight adjustment with his arms.
“I won’t let go. Just hold still,” he whispered.
Kyla nodded, only very slightly, and clenched her teeth and closed her eyes. She let the unseen hand dab at her head. Meanwhile, someone else was poking and prodding at her body, pressing on the sore spots and pulling aside her clothes and dabbing her with hot water. It was hard not to flinch each time. Tears streamed, and sobs and brief wails frequently escaped, but she focused on staying still. Then, the needle came. It hurt less than the cleaning, though each tug of thread through Kyla’s scalp made her stomach want to leap out of her mouth.
Kyla tried to place herself in some of her favorite stories. She fought a dragon, and rode a unicorn, and sang with a dryad. It helped a little, to carry herself far away in her own mind, but it was impossible to entirely ignore the pain and terror.
It felt like it took ages, but finally it was done.
“There!” Maia smiled. “Look at that lovely long hair. It just needs a good wash and you’ll look like a proper elf again.”
Kyla’s scalp still burned and her body ached and throbbed in several places, but she was too exhausted to cry. She lay limp in Dad’s arms as he carried her home and placed her in bed.
Kyla watched as the moon passed by her window. It was visible through a break in the trees, and was nearly full. It was the seventh passing since Kyla’s fall. Her body still ached, though it was improving. Days two and three had been the worst, even more painful than the accident itself. She still throbbed and ached, but she could now eat by herself, and sit up and look out the window.
Could she get out of bed? Mom and Dad wouldn’t like it, certainly, but they would remain asleep unless Bit started crying. Besides, their room was on the other side of the trees. She whipped off her blanket, and grimaced as she swung her legs over the side of the bed. She let her weight down slowly, unsure if her knees could support her. Though they ached, she could stand well enough, and though she walked with a bit of a lilt, she could make her way to the door.
The walkway to the common room was tricky, so she clutched carefully at the bark. She slid through the hatch and down the ladder into the shop, and out the front door.
Even the nearly-full moon couldn’t break through the trees, so the forest was full of large dark patches. Kyla worked her way around them, staying to the most well-lit paths, until she found Dad’s shed. It stank of dead rabbit and whatever foul chemicals he used to treat the skins, so she drew her night robe over her nose and took shallow breaths as she opened the door. It was dark inside, nearly too dark to see, but she knew where he kept his scissors. They were heavy, and cold. Designed to cut leather and hide. She picked it up, and found a bright spot among the trees, where she could see the moon looking down at her.
Proper elves had long hair. Proper elves climbed trees. Kyla now knew these two things did not belong together. So, she must not be a proper elf. She had to choose between them.
The decision, of course, had been made days earlier as she lay in bed and looked at the trees outside her window. She wasn’t going to give up climbing.
So she grabbed her hair with one hand, and held up the scissors with the other, and with several snips in the moonlight, watched as her long brown hair drifted onto the cold forest floor.
I have been trying to wait for the audiobook for Elf Mastery to become available on Audible before posting this, but it's taking ages so I'm going to post some other links where you can buy it and I will add the Audible link when it becomes available. There may be other places you can get it (such as a couple online libraries) but these are the sites where I have seen it for sale:
Apple Books: https://books.apple.com/us/audiobook/elf-mastery/id1512945328?mt=11
Google Play: https://play.google.com/store/audiobooks/details/Bryant_Reil_Elf_Mastery?id=AQAAAEDsckkytM
Also if you do buy please don't be shy to leave reviews and ratings on Goodreads as well as the site on which you bought it! Some sites allow for separate reviews for author and narrator as well - if you have something nice to say about the narration I will pass it along!
Piers Anthony has reviewed Elf Righteous for his upcoming newsletter. Here is what he has to say:
I read Elf Righteous by Briant Reil. This is the third in a series, following Elf Mastery and Elf Doubt in 2016 and 2018 respectively. Despite the light hearted titles, these are increasingly complicated, serious, and hard hitting books, with sometimes dismayingly thoughtful characterizations. The protagonist is Kyla, a girl elf, for all that elves live several hundred years. She is trying to do what's right, but in the complex social and political setting it can be challenging to know what is right, let alone managing to accomplish it. She has some magic of her own, plus some magic items that others want, notably Empress Aethelwyne, who is unscrupulous about obtaining them. At one point Kyla swallows them, and the Empress, unwilling to wait for them to emerge naturally, starts to have the elf girl cut open for them. No anesthetic, no threatening, just hold her down and slice her gut open. The Empress is straightforward about her designs. Kyla manages to get away, injured, but is pursued, and she barely escapes several times. She learns more about her own powers, such as being able to use her mind to read the minds of others, and edit out key memories or sights, such as herself, so that she in effect disappears. To simply considerably, the essence is that the power Chaos has been awakened, and is destroying whole planets. He can perhaps be stopped by the artifacts Kyla has, if they can figure out how to use them. But just stopping Chaos isn't enough; they need also to prevent the Empress from achieving her ruthless conquest of the several dominions that make up the larger society. There seems to be no perfect answer, and indeed, this fantasy is realistic in its refusal to provide an unrealistic solution. Read this for adventure, not laughs.
I have a limited number of Giveaway codes if you are interested in a free audio version of Elf Mastery! Contact me by June 30, 2020 and I will send you a code if there are any left. There should be a contact button on the right side of this page. Only redeemable in Canada, US, UK, EU, Australia.
Have a great day!
First, the paperback version of Elf Righteous is now live on Amazon!
Second, the audiobook for Elf Mastery will be available at Google Play on May 15. I think the discount is pre-order only? Not sure, as I'm not in charge of that. It can be found at
It is narrated by Merphy Napier, whose booktube channel can be found here:
The ebook for Elf Righteous is now live on Amazon:
Just got the covers and ready to upload! Will do the ebook first as I'm debating altering the back text on the paperback. Here it is:
This is the paperback cover in its full spread. Kyla is five years older here, and her hair has grown out. Ebook version is similar but my name is above the book name, and we've pulled the shot back a bit to see a bit more of Kyla.
I will post the link for sale as soon as it is approved by Amazon.
Bryant Reil currently resides in Kelowna, BC. Recent accomplishments include completing a Master's degree, and having finished two books, Elf Mastery and Elf Doubt. The third book, Elf Righteous, is underway.