The Troll King is nearing completion. However, that end of August mark I was hoping to hit has slipped by. Right now, the delay is looking to be about two weeks. By way of apology, and also as an attempt to ramp up your excitement, here is the prologue of The Troll King. It stars someone that you may have been wondering about since the end of the Moonrat Saga . . .
Also, for those of you who are audiobook fans, The War of Stardeon release date should be mid-September. Keep an ear out for that!
BTW, we have not done our final editing pass yet, so let me know if you see any mistakes. Thanks! Depending on the response, I may post another chapter or two between now and the book’s release.
Trevor H. Cooley
Elise Muldroomon sat up in her bed. Her heart jumped in her chest and she threw open the curtains. Soft morning light flooded in, illuminating the interior of her large canopied bed. A sense of relief came over her. It was all right. She was just in her room.
A smile hit her face as she slipped out of the bed, her feet touching the soft white fur rug at the side of her bed. It was a gift from her brother and made from the skin of an exotic type of bear found only in Khalpany. Andre had given it to her when he became king. She would have to remember to thank him again.
She opened the glass doors to the balcony that opened up off of her room and walked outside. She looked over the city of Dremald that spread out far below her and smiled, breathing in deeply. The smell that wafted up from the congested city below wasn’t exactly pleasant, but it was familiar; the smell of home. Contented, she walked back in and sat in front of the mirror to brush her hair.
This was her morning routine, the same one she had followed since she was a little child. Once her hair had reached the desired straightness and luster, she would eat breakfast and call in her maids to dress her. She would need to look her best when she stood with Andre next to her father as he addressed the nobles that afternoon.
Something within her mind flashed and Elise froze mid brush-stroke. She looked into the mirror with horror. The face that looked back at her was that of a stranger. Her hair was not full and lustrous, but limp and dull. Her skin was no longer pink with youth, but so pale as to be nearly translucent.
“No-no-no.” She closed her eyes and shook her head. That face was an illusion, an idle dream brought about by still-tired eyes.
When she opened her eyes, her face was familiar again. All was back as it should be. She laughed at herself and continued to brush her hair until she was satisfied. Then she stood and approached the desk by her door where the servants would have left her breakfast. There it was, still steaming. Bacon and buttery strawberry jam pastries. She lifted up one of the pastries and lifted it to her mouth to take a bite.
“I said awaken, Queen Elise Muldroomon.”
Something within her mind flashed again. The luxurious pastry in her hand had been replaced by a hard chunk of bread. The platter before her was no longer polished silver, but plain hammered tin and held just a lump of cheese and two cold sausages.
She dropped the unwanted bread onto the platter with shock and turned to take in the rest of her room. It was still the bedroom of her youth, but so much had changed. Everything was dimmer, like the life had been drained from the room. Her fine tapestries were gone, as were most of her wardrobes.
Elise heard music floating in from outside and stepped back out on the balcony. The familiar smell of Dremald was still there, but her view was partially obscured by thick iron bars that encased the balcony. It was as if she were standing in a bird cage.
She looked down into the square below and saw that a large number of people had gathered for some reason. A band was playing. What was the big event?
Some of the people below saw her and pointed up. Shouts rang out. Angry shouts.
With a cry, she fled from the balcony and ran to her front door. She reached for the handle, but there was no handle. All of the locks that that she had installed were gone. In fact, it wasn’t her original door at all. It had been replaced by a thick, ugly door that locked from the outside. There was a barred opening where a guard could peer in and check on her.
Elise swallowed, trembling as her illusions began to fall apart. She was no longer a child princess. Her father and brother were dead. She was queen of Dremaldria now, and her husband . . .
“Ewzad!” she cried. “Ewzad, I need you! Come, please! I’m frightened.”
“Ewzad Vriil is dead,” said the Dark Voice.
“No!” She ran to the rear of her room, looking for Ewzad’s secret entrance. She would go down to his laboratory and visit him there. But the entrance was gone, sealed shut by mortar and heavy metal plates. She pounded on the metal. “Ewzad!”
“His death is your fault. You disobeyed me and he grew reckless.”
“No,” said Elise, shaking her head. “Get out of my mind!”
She leapt back into her bed and shut the curtains after her, then pulled her blankets up over her head. They were the magic blankets that her father had given her when she was a child. He had promised her that the runes sewn into them could keep out evil. Surely if she stayed under them, this terrible dream would end and she would awaken again.
All would be made right. She would run to her father and hug him and he would tell her that all was okay. She willed that better life to be true and slowly she began to believe it again.
“There is no hiding anymore.”
The voice shattered her defenses. Elise clenched her eyes closed and prayed. She prayed to every god she could think of. “Please. Please I beg you. Make my blankets work again. Protect me from the voice.”
“All your prayers come to me now, Elise,” the Dark Voice reminded her. “Do you so easily forget?”
“P-please,” Elise whimpered. Of course she had forgotten. She had to forget. Reality was misery. Reality was pain.
“Enough! The time for insanity is over.”
She felt the Dark Voice’s power flex in her mind. He tore away the safe world she had created bit by bit. More true memories flooded her mind. She had been queen and married Ewzad. He had gone to conquer the Mage School and, despite the Dark Prophet’s commands, Elise had gone after him. But why had she done that? Why?
The Dark Voice freed another memory in her mind, this one the most terrible of all. She had gone after Ewzad because . . . she had been pregnant. The Dark Prophet had demanded one of her unborn twins and she hadn’t wanted to give it away.
Sobbing, she paced her hands on her belly. It was flat. Her babies were gone. Her womb was empty, a shriveled husk.
She screamed in grief. “Why? Why do I have to know this? Why must you cause me this pain?”
“Get dressed, Elise. I have a task for you,” said the Dark Voice.
“It was Talon.” Her lip quivered. “You sent her. You and the moonrat witch. You had that vile creature steal my babies!”
“That was the result of your betrayal. They are gone.”
“D-did she . . .” Elise couldn’t finish her thought. The idea that Talon had eaten her children was paralyzing.
“The beast did not harm the infants,” the Dark Voice said.
“Then give them back!” she growled.
“You do not make demands of me!”
A sudden spasm of pain lanced through her. Elise arched her back and would have screamed if her jaw had not been clenched shut. A series of awful cramps contorted her body, twisting her muscles until it felt as though her bones would snap.
“You are mine, Elise,” the Dark Voice reminded. “You bound your soul to me when you sacrificed your brother.”
That was another memory she had suppressed. She had first heard the voice when she had stabbed Ewzad in his throne room. But the process of binding her soul had not been complete until, with Ewzad at her side encouraging her, she had used another of the Dark Prophet’s ceremonial daggers to pierce Andre’s heart. There was no escape for her now.
Yes! I’m yours. I know it! The cramps ceased and Elise gasped as she collapsed, whimpering with exhaustion. “Please, Master. I’ll do anything you want. Just let me see my babies again.”
“You are not in a position to negotiate,” the voice reminded her. “However, your desires and mine are not out of line with each other. If you are obedient, you may yet have the opportunity to raise your heirs.”
“Yes, Master,” she whispered. A small flame of hope lit inside of her. Would he actually let her see her babies again?
“A visitor comes. Be ready.”
“Yes, Master.” With a groan, Elise slid back out of her bed and stood on shaky legs.
Her master’s punishment had taken a lot out of her. She felt like she had been running for miles. Her nightgown was drenched with sweat and clung to her body. If only she had time for a bath. Resting her sore muscles in hot water would have been wonderful, but the Dark Prophet’s voice had been urgent. She stumbled to her desk instead.
Elise pulled off her sodden nightgown and reached for a container of perfumed powder. She dusted herself liberally, letting the powder absorb the moisture on her skin, and flung open the door to her wardrobe. It was packed full of frilly dresses and gowns. Despite her imprisonment, the nobles still let her dress like a queen.
The thought filled Elise with anger. She had been supplanted. She, the rightful queen was imprisoned while the nobles squabbled over succession. How dare they? Now that she had her mind back, she would not stand for it! She would demand her kingdom back.
She swallowed, realizing that she was still standing there naked. She grabbed one of the dresses, a blue one with silk skirts and began lacing it on. Who would this visitor be? Who normally visited her?
Despite the return of her sanity, Elise’s memories of the recent past were jumbled. So much of that time had been spent in a dream-like trance. Surely the servants came and cleaned. She seemed to remember the odd noble showing up, but one face was most common. Demetrius.
Elise grimaced in embarrassment. Captain Demetrius had visited her often, bringing a tray of tea. He had sat and spoken to her as she had gibbered on about her father and brother and other silly princess nonsense. He had never corrected her, simply smiling politely as if she weren’t crazy. She felt the urge to strangle him just for the indignity of it.
There was a rattling of keys at the door and Elise turned in time to see it crack open. A man wearing a brown traveler’s cloak slid into the room. He winked at her.
The man’s voice was high and unfamiliarly accented. His hair was a shock of red and his face was splattered with freckles. Under his cloak, his clothes were plain, though he wore a sword in an ornate silver scabbard.
Leaving the door slightly ajar, he dropped a large sack onto the ground and stepped over to the desk where her breakfast platter sat.
“May I?” he asked.
The man lifted a cold sausage from the platter and bit off half of it. Then, while he chewed, he bent and shoved the rest of it down into the doorjamb. He nudged the door closed, but it didn’t latch. He turned to face her.
“Sorry, but once it shuts I got no way to open it from the inside.” He jerked his thumb back towards the door. “You know, dead guard.”
She frowned. “Who are you?”
“Oh! Sorry about that. That was rude, wasn’t it, not introducing myself?” He smiled and held out his hand. “You can call me Nod.”
Elise didn’t take his hand. “And you’re not worried about leaving a dead man outside my door? What if someone comes by?”
“Oh, I covered it up a bit,” he assured her. “Also, no one’s gonna come.”
“And why not?”
“Because of the coronation, of course,” he said. “Everybody’s busy with the preparations.”
Elise blinked back at him. “Coronation? What do you mean?”
He reached up and scratched his head. “Wow, you have been out of it, haven’t you? Can’t you hear them all outside, yammering?”
She glanced back towards the balcony, where the tinny sound of music and the low roar of voices were still flooding into the room. “Yes, but I wasn’t aware . . . So the nobles have decided. Who is replacing me?”
“Well, the great Lord Commander Demetrius is rising to the top of the ranks, milady,” he said.
“What? But how.” Her cheeks reddened with outrage. How dare that man? “He isn’t even of noble blood!”
Nod grinned. “I can see that this will take some explaining. Tell you what. I’ll fill you in while you get dressed.”
“I am dressed,” she said.
“True, but you ain’t wearing that. Here.” He lifted the bag that he had dropped on the floor and tossed it to her. “Put them on.”
Elise caught the bag and wrinkled her nose as she looked inside. “These are servant’s clothes.”
“Yeah, well how else am I gonna get you out of here? What’ll folks think if they see me trying to take the imprisoned bloody ex-queen out of the palace?”
“I’m leaving?” she asked, eyes wide. The idea hadn’t occurred to her.
“We got places to go, don’t we? Lots to do,” he replied. “I’d disguise you better if we had the time. Once we’re far gone, we’ll stop and cut your hair. Probly should dye it too, I wager.”
“Cut my hair?” Elise said in shock. Where exactly was this man planning to take her? “And why should I go anywhere with you?”
“You ain’t burning to leave?” Nod said in disbelief. He shook his head. “Sorry. It’s me and my bad manners again. Of course you’d be wanting to see my credentials.”
The red-haired man lifted his left hand and made a fist. Blackness swirled across the back of his hand, revealing a dark rune. Elise licked her lips. This man had been named at the Dark Bowl.
The man grinned. “I see you recognize who sent me. Now get changed.”
Elise pulled the clothes from the bag. They were wrinkled and stained. He must have pulled them from a laundry bin. “Turn around then.”
He sneered at her. “Sorry, I’m not the sort of man turns around when a perfectly good-looking woman’s getting naked.”
“I insist,” she said with a glower. “Otherwise you can leave without me.”
“I counter your insistence with insistence of my own,” he replied with a short bow. “You don’t have a choice if you want to see your babies again. Don’t worry. Our mutual master ain’t gonna want me touching you. My eyes however . . .” He snickered again. “See what they want to see.”
She turned away from him with a scowl and began unlacing her dress as quickly as she could. “So tell me, Nod. Just how did Demetrius talk the nobles into crowning him king?”
“He did that by becoming a noble himself,” the man replied.
She could feel his eyes on her bare back as she lifted the servant’s dress. “Impossible. There hasn’t been a new noble house created in centuries.”
“Yeah, that would be a problem. Guess that explains why he went and got himself adopted.”
“Adopted? By who?” Elise knew the noble houses better than anyone and she couldn’t imagine any of them allowing an uncouth commoner soldier like Demetrius into their ranks, no matter how much his prestige had risen during the war.
“Why the long lost heir of house Vriil,” said Nod.
Elise spun to face him. She wasn’t completely finished putting the new dress on, but that didn’t seem to matter at the moment. “You mean Willum?”
Ewzad had told her about the boy child of his sister that had disappeared during his parents’ execution. Ewzad had looked for him for years before assuming him dead.
“That’s right. Willum Vriil, resurfaced during the war. Evidently he had joined the academy and become quite the hero,” Nod replied. “Once his secret got out, the nobles demanded that he take up his inheritance and become one of them, you know. Instead he sent a letter announcing that he had adopted old Demetrius and appointed him as steward of the Vriil lands.”
“He adopted Demetrius via letter? And the nobles stood for that?” she said in amazement.
“Of course the houses squabbled over it for a few weeks,” he said. “But Demetrius is really popular among the common folk. He did liberate them from you and your dead husband after all.”
Elise quivered with rage as she put on the sturdy boots that were in the bag. It wasn’t anger at Demetrius or even the other nobles. It was anger at herself. If only she hadn’t wasted the months after the war descending into madness.
“Kind of funny when you think about it,” he added. “All that trouble they went through to get rid of one King Vriil, just to crown another.”
“I could have done something about this,” she said. “I know how to pull strings. I could have salvaged the situation. Perhaps even held onto my throne.”
“Yeah? Well you didn’t,” Nod said. He gripped the edges of the door and pried it slowly open. “Now let’s go. The master’s got plans.”
END OF THE PROLOGUE OF THE TROLL KING