Where Once The Faithful Ran

Where Once The Faithful Ran cover

Those who have
tried to stand their ground have been cast aside.

Those who submit become the new frontier in an Empire promising to stretch to
the eight corners of the known worlds.

Read chapter one of this stunning new sci-fi saga, below…

Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.

Trees roared in the strengthening wind that swept the valley. The storms that ushered the last of the summer were ready to bring the full force of winter upon this mountainous land.
In the cleft between the high mountain peaks crowned with snow, a narrow strip of water ran through steeply wooded slopes. The water’s surface puckered white in the winds that whipped it into frenzy and white horses raced as if to draw mythical charioteers from shore to shore in a race before the elements.
The fearful night was brewing and the leaden sky promised weather that had been missing all summer long. Now the nights were drawing in, and the new season was at last ready to take its grip across the land.

* * * *

Tomar walked the rock-strewn path in the shadows of the tree line, moving as far as he dared above the shore. Here he could count on some shelter from the trees, even if at the risk of wolverine attacks.
For an old man of nearly seventy cycles, he could still make light work of the hazards. Indeed, his age-worn staff served as little more than a comfort to his gnarled hand. In a life that had always skated along the edge of danger, it would take more than a changing of the seasons to unsettle him.
Long white wisps of a beard, several seasons old and thinning with age, tussled free of his dark hooded cloak and flitted across his face forcing him to stop from time to time to pull them clear so he could see the path.
He stopped to look back down the valley in the direction from which he had come. The swell from the lake was now racing across the narrow shore. Soon there would be rains, he thought. The sky above brought the promise that those rains would be heavy; he would have to hurry if he wished to make it to Palladin and stay dry.
Agile and in good health for seventy he was. But being caught out in the storms at this time of year was not the wisest move for an old man. Leaning on his staff, Tomar looked back up the valley, towards the shifting banks of mist rolling down from the mountains.
It wasn’t a great distance to go. Palladin hid in the cool comforts of that mist, visible only in times of good weather from this vantage. He couldn’t see the graceful pink towers yet, but he knew they were there. Travelling this route time and again he knew the way well enough to travel it with his eyes blindfolded. It was not much further from here and the worst of the trail lay behind him on the path back to the town.
A lone raindrop splattered unexpectedly onto his exposed hand, sending droplets scattering over his staff. Glancing up at the darker sky, he realised he had rested for long enough. The weather was cycling into the valley faster than he had anticipated whilst he had been caught up in his little reverie. The rains would arrive, hard, and he would be caught in them if he did not hurry.
He began picking his footing along the stony path. Around him, each rock was turning a slicker grey as droplets rained through the thin forest foliage.

* * * *

An endless random drumming filled his ears as he finally hustled from the trees into the clearing in front of the palace. Before him, the pink sandstone spires rose into the mists that had enveloped the forest. Already his robe was heavy and trickles of water scattered from it in rhythm to his gait.
He cursed himself for wasting so much time in the lower reaches of the valley. He could feel the cold penetrating down to the tunic beneath; this was not a good state to have allowed him to fall into for a man of his advancing age.
Then the heavens finally opened completely, letting loose without mercy and took with them Tomar’s last hopes of remaining remotely dry. He stumbled towards the wooden gates set into the nearest tower along the stony path whose slick rain-beaten surface threatened to throw him to the ground with one false step.
Unfurling a wet hand, he summoned up his remaining strength and reached for the tarnished, brass knocker in the shape of a gargoyle’s head and heaved it back as far as its weight would allow. It fell from his hand with a crash against the door. The rumble echoed into the vast building beyond the door.
Impatiently he waited, his weary mind dragging the seconds out as he wished he could get inside and get warmed in front of an open fire. It was infuriating to be stood here in the rains waiting for an answer.
He was debating himself whether to reach for the knocker again when the sound of footsteps came from beyond the door. Abruptly they stopped, leaving Tomar wondering if he might have imagined them.
The wicket gate adjacent to the gargoyle’s head eased open, releasing a wave of warm incense-laced air. He took this as an invitation to escape the worsening weather. Shielding the top of his hand to guard against the risk of hitting the low frame, Tomar gratefully ducked through out of the cold into the smoky warmth.

* * * *

The dark room beyond the gate had a friendly heat to it. Tomar slipped down the damp hood and rubbed the moisture from his face as he waited for his eyes to grow used to the darkness.
The wicket gate thumped closed behind him, shutting out the steady patter of rain. In the gloom, the figure of a short man moved from the gate, silhouetted in the torchlight.
Though Tomar’s eyes were not yet fully adjusted to make the figure out fully, its rugged features were plain enough to him – a Geldnine dwarf. A fierce warrior race, well known throughout the galaxy for their immense loyalty and devotion to duty.
Aardnaar was a distant planet too far off the beaten way to normally find such a creature, let alone here in the royal palace. Idly Tomar wondered the dwarf’s reasons for being here. But there was little time to wonder; the short man beckoned him to follow without uttering a word.
They passed through an intricate maze of winding passageways and rooms. A newcomer might find the palace easy to become lost in. But Tomar was no stranger here. It was almost longer than he could remember to when he had first walked these corridors in awe. He had been just twelve, fresh from the villages beyond the forests, eager to learn the trade of his Father, an advisor to the high Priest’s guild. It had been a time before many could now recall when the Priest’s guild had been powerful and prosperous. Palladin had been alive with people, each busy in their work.
Now the whole planet of Aardnaar was slumped into decay. It no longer had the economy to support its armies that had dwindled to nothing. Most of the guild’s buildings in the cities had been sold to pay debts, and the money had flowed away like water.
Tomar’s mind wandered back from his daydreaming to the dwarf leading him. He began to wonder just why the high Priest Jono was now hiring off-worlders to work in the palace. He scrutinised the creature’s features, analysing every move.
The dwarf’s old gnarled face carried many scars of past battles, making Tomar wonder which parts of the galaxy the warrior had fought in. Moving quick and with great certainty in the poorly illuminated corridors, it was clear that the little man knew his way around Palladin well. Clearly he had been working for the high Priest for some time.
They turned a corner, to be confronted by the ebony timber doors that led directly into the throne chambers. From underneath the doors there wavered the flickering light of torches, reflecting on the worn stone flooring.
The dwarf took out an old hilt, and tapped the doors once to acknowledge their presence. Without waiting for any sort of a reply, he slipped the hilt away back under the folds of his cloak and heaved his weight against the doors and beckoned Tomar through into the room beyond.

Part one of the Shibboleth Saga.
Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.