VLOGANOVEL: Nightblade Episode Two

Help me write my book! I’m live-creating Nightblade: Episode Two on my YouTube channel. Tune in live and you can help me name characters and places, determine the flow of the story and sort through plot issues. Live comment with questions or comments and I’ll answer them on the air. GET THE FIRST EPISODE HERE: http://garrettbrobinson.com/nb-1 Here’s what I got done this hour:


EPISODE TWO PARAGRAPH

Loren travels along the road alone, unable to go home because of her father. The constables nearly find her out in the wilderness, and she’s unable to avoid them because she doesn’t know the area. When they’re close to catching her, she spots a caravan and hides in it without anyone seeing. When the constables leave, A YOUNG MERCHANT’S DAUGHTER becomes interested in her. The girl’s mother is pretty sure Loren is who the constables were after, but since she’s no longer with Xain the mother decides to leave it alone. The YOUNG GIRL determines to run away from HER home and join Loren when they reach Cabrus. But her parents are totally awesome and Loren would feel bad. They hit a checkpoint before Cabrus, and the constables are there. While she’s trying to hide, Loren realizes the best way to hide is to run away again, and leave the girl behind (echoing what the wizard did to her at the beginning of the episode). But while she does that, one of the constables catches her and drags her into Cabrus.

EPISODE THREE PARAGRAPH

She’s being led through Cabrus, which she visited once as a child. She barely remembers it and is overwhelmed by how big it is. As they go, the shorter constable sees her dagger and then inexplicably lets her go when her partner isn’t looking. She starts wearing the dagger openly because she thinks it will keep her safe, though she doesn’t know why. Gem tries to steal the dagger, but Loren catches him. Because she doesn’t immediately start beating him, he likes her. He advises her to keep the dagger hidden. It doesn’t keep her safe, it makes her a target. She doesn’t look like she has anything of value other than that. But Gem doesn’t know the significance of the dagger that the guard saw. Without it, people will leave her alone. Loren has Gem take her to the pickpocket ring he’s a part of. It’s run by a twenty-year-old girl who the kids call Mother. Loren kind of wants to join. Mother will let her prove herself. She’s got to steal someone’s purse—if it’s got more than ten coins, she’s in. Gem advises her to cut the purse strings with a dagger, but Loren tugs too hard and is discovered. She escapes, and returns to Mother. But Mother is angry because she was caught. Then she sees the dagger and tries to take it from Loren. Loren escapes with the help of Gem, and the two of them end up fleeing the city guard. In the flight, she has to leave her bow behind in the city. Then she sees Xain riding in a carriage, and leaps in with Gem.

EPISODE FOUR PARAGRAPH

Xain is pissed that they boarded his carriage, but he can’t call them out because he’s on the run from the law, too. Once they’re on the road he tries to get Loren to leave, threatening to set them on fire, but Loren convinces him to keep them in the carriage. There’s a tense scene with some city guard, but Xain escapes by pretending to have the pox.

There’s cool character establishment with all three of them, and we find out why Xain is on the run: he “killed” a rival wizard.

After a day or two of travel, they pass through a small village. Loren sees a dude who makes bows and wants one. Either Xain notices and buys her one, or she decides to steal it with Gem’s help.

As they travel on and near the next city, they’re ambushed in the woods by Mystics. Xain’s driver turns out to have betrayed him. Xain flees into the woods, and Loren and Gem chase him into the darkness.

EPISODE TWO DETAILED OUTLINE:

CHAPTER ONE

Loren travels along the road to Cabrus. She can’t go home now, obviously, and she’s pissed at Xain for leaving. She hunts and cooks a rabbit, giving some establishment that yeah, she can take care of herself.

As she’s preparing to move on the next day, she spots the constables far north of her on the road. THEY HAVE HORSES (DUN DUN DUNNN).

CHAPTER TWO

The constables don’t see her immediately. She abandons the road, following it but keeping a safe distance. She tries to always keep them in sight. But when they reach the point where she abandoned the road, Loren suddenly stumbles on a bear and it roars as it attacks her. She knows how to escape a bear, and does, but she’s attracted the constables’ attention. They follow her off the road and she panics as she runs. Then she finds a caravan moving along a smaller road, parked by the side, and she finds an unattended wagon. She slips inside.

CHAPTER THREE

The constables inspect the caravan. As they near her wagon, Loren finds a hidden compartment in the wagon, filled with some illegal crap, and she hides in it.

She sneaks out and is found by a plump young merchant’s daughter. The girl’s mother also meets her, and knows the constables were looking for her. But they were mainly looking for Xain, and since Loren clearly isn’t a dangerous wizard, the mother decides to leave her alone. Loren also has the black eye (sympathy vote). Plus, Loren knows about the secret compartment and the stuff the caravan is smuggling. They’ll take Loren to Cabrus and share food with her.

At breakfast, the girl asks Loren about herself. Loren is too free to speak, and explains how she had a cruel father and ran away from home. She explains to the girl how she wants to be a master thief because of stories she heard when she was a little girl. The merchant’s daughter is entranced.

Welcome back to VlogaNovel, where I live-write a book and self-publish it, all on streaming web video! You can watch and see how to write a book, how to format a book for publishing, and get all kinds of behind-the-scenes details on Nightblade, my serialized heroic fantasy series, which you can’t find anywhere else! PRE-ORDER THIS BOOK: http://garrettbrobinson.com/nb-2 GET THE FIRST BOOK IN THE SERIES: http://garrettbrobinson.com/nb-1 Here’s what I got done this hour:


OUTLINE

EPISODE TWO DETAILED OUTLINE:

CHAPTER FOUR

Loren rides south with the caravan. The merchant lets her ride a horse, which she’s never done before (even though in her daydreams she always rides a horse). She isn’t exactly a natural, but she still enjoys it. Gentle, easy descriptions of the journey south. Loren constantly keeps an open eye for the constables, and for Xain.

After a day or two of travel, the merchant’s daughter comes to Loren with a purse. She’s stolen it from her mother. She thinks Loren’s goal of becoming a master thief is just TOTES AWESOME and she wants to join. But the merchant is a totally cool woman, and this little girl is unused to harsh conditions and not very physically capable. Loren tries to convince the girl to give up her (frankly stupid) dream. The girl won’t, and she accuses Loren of having a double standard. But she does return the coin purse before her mother notices, because Loren is afraid SHE’LL be blamed if the purse is missing.

CHAPTER FIVE

It’s the last day on the road to Cabrus. They hit a checkpoint. Loren spies Bern and Corin, the constables from her village. The merchant quietly directs Loren to hide in the wagon again. They stop, and the constables start going down the line. Loren thinks it will be easy peasy, but then she overhears the constables opening secret compartments and finding shit. Someone tipped them off.

She panics. They’ll find her. Then she realizes that the only thing she can do is run away. She knows the merchant’s daughter will be heartbroken, but if she comes with Loren she’ll be in very real danger. So Loren decides to abandon her, and realizes that Xain may have done something very similar at the end of the last episode.

She slips away from the wagons and fades into the trees. She moves toward the gate on the other side of Cabrus’ city walls. But as soon as she emerges from the trees, Corin and Bern gallop up on horses and capture her, dragging her toward the city. (The merchant turned her in).

BACK STORY

MAGIC SYSTEM

Magic System Diagram

Less than 1% of all humans are born with magic.

Of these, less than a quarter are born with abilities that anyone would consider “epic.” But some with weak magical abilities are able to use them in clever ways to become VERY useful. Mother, for example, can change her skin color, hair color and appearance (very useful for a pickpocket).

THE NINE KINGDOMS

The Nine Kingdoms are:

Selvan

POWER STRUCTURE

The Nine Kingdoms each have their own king, and every subject in each kingdom owes him their loyalty. However, those nine kings owe their allegiance to the High King. The High King controls no lands and no armies, save the High King’s guard, a battle-tested regiment of soldiers who are utterly loyal to him. But their only purpose is to protect the High King. They do not conquer.

When a High King dies, the nine kings hold an election among themselves to select the new High King. These are usually somewhat brief affairs—High Kings rarely die unexpectedly, and before he passes the nine kings have already politically maneuvered as much as they can. The High King dies, everyone throws their crown behind a candidate, and the candidate with the most crowns becomes the new High King.

There have, however, been examples in history of protracted elections, such as in Roth’s War. No blood was shed in Roth’s War. Instead, each of the nine kings voted for themselves and refused to change their vote. If even one of them had voted for another, that king would have won, but all refused. Eventually one of the kings died, and his son threw his crown behind Roth, the then-king of Selvan, and the election was over.

The High King’s seat is very near the kingdom of Selvan, and as a result the High King is usually closely tied with Selvan. The Seat is also near ANOTHER KINGDOM, but since that kingdom is usually quarrelsome and warlike, the High King tends to distance himself from them. High Kings from ANOTHER KINGDOM usually rule over periods of some little strife in the nine kingdoms.

Welcome back to VlogaNovel, where I live-write a book and self-publish it, all on streaming web video! You can watch and see how to write a book, how to format a book for publishing, and get all kinds of behind-the-scenes details on Nightblade, my serialized heroic fantasy series, which you can’t find anywhere else!

PRE-ORDER THIS BOOK: http://garrettbrobinson.com/nb-2

GET THE FIRST BOOK IN THE SERIES: http://garrettbrobinson.com/nb-1

Here’s what I did this hour:


OPEN LOOPS

  • Where did Loren’s parents get the dagger, and what is its significance?
  • What did Xain do that put him on the run from the law?

DRAVEN NELDA

Draven Nelda

Loren’s father is named Draven. He is cruel and abusive. Mean, beady eyes. He hits Loren freely. He is a woodsman, but old and less physically spry than Loren. He’s still monstrously strong, however. He owns a beautiful, well-crafted dagger, the origins of which are a mystery.

EPISODE ONE:

Loren’s father finds Loren standing looking at the village and threatens to hurt her if she doesn’t keep working. He goes off to do some business with the smithy, from whom he needs a new axe. When he returns to the chopping block, Loren is gone again. He searches the village and finds her near the village’s east end, talking to two constables. He’s infuriated that she’s abandoned her work again and hits her in the stomach, then tells her to return to the house where he’ll teach her a further lesson. Loren’s mother arrives and countermands him, saying Loren needs to go to the dance. They argue, but Draven gives in and chops the logs himself, his anger mounting. Then he spots Loren leaving Chet’s house in travel clothes with a bow. He chases her north, infuriated, then follows her path around the village and southwest. He finds Loren with Xain shortly, but stalks them for a while while waiting for an opportunity. When Xain stumbles, he attacks. He knocks Loren to the ground but then goes after Xain, because the man is unknown and potentially dangerous. When Loren attacks with a dagger, he knocks it from her hand and strikes her repeatedly. He then goes back after Xain to neutralize him and take Loren back home. But Loren shoots him in the leg with an arrow, and he’s left to find his way home himself (he can’t chase them for fear of losing too much blood on the road, and they’ll outdistance him anyway).

ELPHA NELDA

Loren’s mother is named Elpha. She is a harpy, a termagant. It was her idea to get a dowry for Loren in the first place. She and Draven live a miserable, hate-filled marriage.

EPISODE ONE:

Elpha is helping with preparations for the dance when she wonders where Loren is. She goes into the village to find Draven threatening to beat Loren. She tells Loren to go get ready for the dance instead, then gets into an argument about it with Draven as Loren leaves.

CORIN

Corin

Corin is a short, stalwart constable who at the beginning of the series is pursuing Xain through Selvan. His skin is dark brown, sort of Pacific Islander-looking. He’s involved in some sort of secret society that places some kind of significance in Loren’s dagger. He’s generally a pretty nice guy but he WILL NOT tolerate shit when it comes to his job. He WILL catch Xain and he WILL bring him to justice, because that’s his duty.

EPISODE ONE:

Corin and Bern arrive at the village to find Chet and Bo, who they ask about Xain. The boys haven’t seen him. Loren arrives and tells Corin and Bern that Xain ran northeast. Corin and Bern pursue him northeast for some hours without finding any hint of his whereabouts, so they go back to the village where they’ve tied up their horses and retrieve them, then decide to spend the night in the woods as the sun goes down. Overnight, Draven returns and tells the constables that Xain and Loren have run away to the road leading to Cabrus.

BERN

BernBern is a tall, muscular constable who is pursuing Xain at the beginning of the series. He’s deathly pale and gaunt, and taller than most other men. He’s got a cruel streak. One of the reasons he’s a constable is DEFINITELY the occasional chance to plant his fist in someone’s face. He’s still quite duty-driven, though.

EPISODE ONE:

Corin and Bern arrive at the village to find Chet and Bo, who they ask about Xain. The boys haven’t seen him. Loren arrives and tells Corin and Bern that Xain ran northeast. Corin and Bern pursue him northeast for some hours without finding any hint of his whereabouts, so they go back to the village where they’ve tied up their horses and retrieve them, then decide to spend the night in the woods as the sun goes down. Overnight, Draven returns and tells the constables that Xain and Loren have run away to the road leading to Cabrus.

DAMARIS

DamarisDamaris is a successful merchant who makes even MORE money by smuggling illegal items, such as silks, between kingdoms who have embargoes in place. She travels with a caravan and visits all of the nine kingdoms at one time or another. She is not cruel, but neither is she overly kind. She looks after herself and her family first. She freely provides passage for Loren to Cabrus, but when the constables begin to search her wagons, Damaris gives Loren up in order to save her own business.

ANNIS

AnnisAnnis is a wide-eyed, slightly chubby, physically inept but very bright girl. Damaris is her mother. When Annis meets Loren, she just thinks she’s the coolest person in the world. She, like most people, thinks Loren’s eyes are just the best. When she hears about Loren’s goals, which sound like an epic heroic story to her, she decides she wants to come, too. This, of course, is a terrible idea, and Loren tells her so, and then abandons her.

Welcome back to VlogaNovel, where I live-write a book and self-publish it, all on streaming web video! You can watch and see how to write a book, how to format a book for publishing, and get all kinds of behind-the-scenes details on Nightblade, my serialized heroic fantasy series, which you can’t find anywhere else!

PRE-ORDER THIS BOOK: http://garrettbrobinson.com/nb-2

GET THE FIRST BOOK IN THE SERIES: http://garrettbrobinson.com/nb-1

Here’s what I wrote this hour:


CHAPTER ONE

Loren waited by the riverbank for nearly an hour before she came to accept that Xain wasn’t coming back.

She spent the time munching on some of Miss Aisley’s bread and some of the meat as well. Then she drank from the water skin, careful not to take enough to waterlog herself, and refilled it from the river. And she poked gingerly at the bruises on her ribs and eye, probing their extent. She cupped some river water in her hands and gazed at her reflection. The skin around her left eye had grown black with bruising from her father’s fist. She let the water seep through her fingers and tried to push the image from her mind.

All the while she pushed away Xain’s absence in her mind. Her eyes avoided the empty spot where he’d slept. But the dirt would not let her forget, pulling her attention even when she looked the other way.

When she realized he had well and truly gone, the confusion and doubt within her vanished like a wisp of morning mist fading atop the river. Her insides had spun all morning; now they stilled and turned icy cold.

She stowed her water skin in the travel sack and slung it over her shoulder. Then, her hand gliding along her dagger’s hilt, she set off west, following the course of the river.

The Melnar stretched wide beside her, fifty feet at the narrowest point she passed. It babbled and whispered at her feet, running the opposite direction. She turned her thoughts to it to push them from Xain, but that only made her feel as though the river tried to drag her backward. Soon she found herself trying to think of nothing at all.

Luck was with her, in that she traveled through a foreign land that lay beautiful in the early morning just after dawn. Her eyes were drawn to the rolling terrain and the glow of pink in the eastern sky, and her mind was led outward to the land around her.

Trees were few, at least compared to her forest, and that afforded her long, excellent visibility in all directions. At first she walked along the line of hills that skipped between the Melnar and the King’s road, where she could see a dark line on the northern horizon. That was the Birchwood, she knew. Every so often she had to stop her feet from turning in that direction and taking her home. Soon she realized that if she could see many miles in every direction, it meant that she, too, was visible. She climbed down the southern side of the hills then, and only climbed to the top every half hour to keep an eye out for the constables.

The constables. They would come after her, she knew. By now her father had no doubt returned to the village, and if the constables too had returned, then Father would tell them about his fight with Xain and Loren. Though the wizard had abandoned her, the constables would still think her in league with him. She must be wary, lest they sought to deal her the justice they could not deal to Xain.

Long before midday, Loren reached the road’s great turn south. It swung left and crossed the river by means of a great stone bridge. Loren had seen it once as a girl of five summers, but she did not remember it.

Now it took her breath away. The stones stood at least twenty feet high from the surface of the water, like river willows given form by human hands and grown from living stone. They joined in great arches that supported the road, which curved across the top of the river’s swells like the path of a thrown rock. Whereas the road had been wide dirt rimmed with light-colored, carved rock before, the bridge stone was all dark grey and wet.

“How could such a thing ever come from human hands?” said Loren. “How could they build such towers of stone in the deep, deep water?”

She realized that no one was there to hear her, and her cheeks flushed. She found her hand upon the hilt of the dagger again, and she glanced down at it.

“Well, for lack of anyone better, I shall talk to you, then,” she said. “Though I think the wonder of this bridge is lost upon you.”

The dagger said nothing.

“I must give you a name,” she muttered. She glanced over her shoulder. “But perhaps it can wait until I have more time to think, and do not fear the pounding of heavy feet behind me.”

As Loren took her first step upon the bridge, she expected it to shake like the rickety wood rope constructs common in the Birchwood. But it stayed solid as the ground she’d traveled all morning. It was unnerving, walking across the stone and seeing the water swirl twenty feet below. But in no time at all she had reached the far side.

Immediately she cut off and away from the road. South of the river trees grew plentiful again, and she dipped into the space between their trunks. At once she felt better, more secure, as though finally hidden from watchful eyes. She kept walking into the trees until the ground began to rise and she could only barely see the road. Then she struck due south again, following the road’s straight course and keeping it just on the edge of eyesight.

“Though I’m grateful for their company, these trees are bare saplings next to the ones from home,” she murmured, fingering the dagger again.

In the Birchwood, she often walked beneath trees that stood fifty feet or taller. Here, she barely saw a one that reached more than twenty or twenty-five feet. Any forester’s daughter knew why that would be: these trees were oft felled. That mean that here, too, foresters roamed, and like as not they were more numerous than near Loren’s home. She would have to avoid the eyes of more than just the constables on the road.

Midday came and went, and the sun began the slow first leg of its journey back to the earth. Loren felt a gnawing in her stomach and reached for the travel sack where her meat and bread waited. But just then, she spotted a telltale patch of brown fur beneath a nearby shrub. Quiet as a ghost, she pulled her bow from her back and notched an arrow.

Silent she drew, and silent let fly. The rabbit gave a thin death scream.

She struck a small fire with her flint and tinder, dressing the rabbit quickly. She could not spend the time to prepare the meat for travel, so she ate as much as she could. She savored every morsel of the warm, moist meat and then kept eating long past the point of enjoyment. Her salted meat would last her long if she rationed it carefully, but she knew that when on an uncertain road, the wise were loathe to dip into reserves. She was sparing, too, with her water, taking only a single small sip. No other river lay on the road to Cabrus, as she had been quick to remind Xain.

Thoughts of the wizard returned, urgent and unwelcome, and Loren pushed down the sour feeling in the back of her mind. The rabbit lost its savor. She stamped out the dying embers of her fire and resumed her trek south.

The rest of the day passed uneventfully, but rather than reassure her Loren felt a curious sense of urgency growing. It spurred her legs to swing faster and faster, until she was no longer walking but half running through the woods beside the road. She would have felt better if she had seen the constables, if only to end the aching uncertainty. What if they had snuck upon her unawares, and now trailed her in hiding, waiting to see if she would reunite with Xain? Or what if they waited for her to make camp, to take her in the night? She felt eyes boring into her back and hoped it was only her imagination.

As the sun neared the horizon, she decided that she must rest. If the constables indeed trailed her, she would gain nothing by pushing on through the night. And if they were nowhere nearby, she would only waste precious hours of sleep that would keep her sharp and alert the next day.

She had no one with whom to trade watches and guard against a night time visit from animals. Instead she spent her last hour of walking in search of a tree with a wide hollow above the ground.

She found it at last in a thick oak only a few minutes after the sun’s last sliver vanished. Twelve feet from the forest floor, a large black hole gaped from the oak’s side. She hooked arms and legs around the trunk and shimmied upward, scaling the last few feet cautiously. She poked one eye above the branch below the hollow, scanning the hollow in the vanishing light. It lay empty.

She climbed atop the branch and inspected the hollow more closely. Empty of anything save ants. Loren could stand ants, especially when they were not the kind to bite.

The hollow would not let her lay flat, but by sitting and running her legs out and along the thick branch, she could lean far back into the heart of the tree. She wished for a rope to tie herself in, but she could do nothing about that now. She wedged her arms against the sides of the hollow to better hold herself in place.

Despite herself, her thoughts leapt immediately to Xain. She thought they would plague her all night and keep her from a restful sleep. But moonlight pierced the leafy canopy to fall upon her outstretched legs, and her eyes grew hazy as they rested upon the cool silver glow. Weariness claimed her.

She woke in the morning to a stiff back, though less so than she had feared. Sliding herself gently from the hollow, she climbed hand over foot down the oak’s branches. No hunger gnawed at her stomach, but her urine was dark and pungent. She took a few more swallows of water than she would have liked. She could not drink so much every day, but neither could she afford to grow too dry upon the road. And water loss could creep upon the unwary traveler, leaving them suddenly weak without knowing why.

Her thirst sated, she decided to briefly visit the road before traveling on. A quick glance only, to see if anything could be seen. She darted through the forest, growing every slower and more cautious as she neared the tree line.

At last she reached the road, at a high point where it dipped away to both north and south. She hunched low as she walked out to it, scanning the land in all directions. The straight track of road contained nothing in either direction, no travelers on either foot or horseback.

She gave a small sigh of relief and palmed the dagger’s hilt. “Luck is with us still,” she muttered.

Then her eyes fixed on something, a small smudge to the north that appeared as if in answer to her words. It grew larger as she watched, her eyes widening. Soon she dropped to her stomach in the dirt, for she could see what raised the cloud of dust: two men on horseback, riding south hard and fast along the road.

Welcome back to VlogaNovel, where I live-write a book and self-publish it, all on streaming web video! You can watch and see how to write a book, how to format a book for publishing, and get all kinds of behind-the-scenes details on Nightblade, my serialized heroic fantasy series, which you can’t find anywhere else!

PRE-ORDER THIS BOOK: http://garrettbrobinson.com/nb-2

GET THE FIRST BOOK IN THE SERIES: http://garrettbrobinson.com/nb-1

Here’s what I wrote this hour:


CHAPTER TWO

Loren’s heart thundered in her chest. She turned and scuttled away from the road toward the trees, keeping as low as she could.

The forest enveloped her like an old friend, and she felt safer the moment she came beneath its shadow. She plunged further, away from the road and into the scrub brush that covered the forest floor.

But as soon as she lost sight of the road, she paused. There was some benefit to keeping an eye on the road and on the men who pursued her. But how could she ensure they would not spot her?

Just south of where she stood, the land rose steeply, forming a low ridge that ran alongside the road for what looked like many miles. Loren made her choice and ran for the rise. The trees grew thinner as soon as she began to climb, but she leapt easily from cover to cover until she stood atop the ridge at the base of a tree, with a large cave at her back. She stepped behind the trunk, placing it between her and the road, and then poked an eye around it to look north.

The men had drawn close. They drove their horses hard, the beasts’ flanks streaked with white. At their pace, Loren thought they might pass her in a few minutes. She could hear the faint sound of their hoofbeats. All she need do was hide, and wait until they had passed. Once they left her behind on the road, she would have no chance to overtake them. The rest of her journey to Cabrus would be in safety.

Loren slid a hand along the dagger’s hilt. “A good scare, certainly, but nothing to worry about. We’re safe.”

She slid back behind the tree and slid down against its trunk—and then her heart nearly stopped.

The ground quaked under the impact of heavy feet. Not three yards away, a bear emerged from the mouth of the cave. Its nose twitched as it snuffled the air, its tiny eyes fixed on her. It had fur all of black, sticking out in great bristles as its hackles rose. Two cubs cowered behind their mother’s hind legs, looking at her with equal parts curiosity and fear.

Loren’s throat went dry. Slowly she pushed herself back up the trunk of the tree until she stood once again. Without thinking, her hand slid to the dagger once more. A fool’s hope, she thought. The dagger would serve no better against the bear than her own nails.

But Loren had grown up in a forest, and bears were no rare thing in the woods she called home. She knew what to do, but it would mean exposing herself to view from the road again. But perhaps if she could keep quiet, she would stay unseen by the constables.

She sidestepped, stepping away from the tree, and began to back away slowly. She stretched up as tall as she could, thankful as never before for her uncommon height. At her movement, the bear hunched down slightly and growled. But it did not advance.

Slowly Loren backed away down the slope, never taking her eyes from the beast. One step. Two. If she could only get far enough, she could turn and run without the bear giving chase.

On the third step, her foot caught on a rock and she stumbled. The slope worked against her, and she nearly crashed to the ground. But while she kept her feet, the sudden movement startled the bear. It took two great steps forward and roared. Even at a distance, Loren could smell the reek of its breath, and suddenly she thought of her father again.

She risked a glance over her shoulder and nearly died of fright. The constables had pulled their mounts to a halt on the road directly adjacent to where she stood, and their eyes were fixed upon her. Without a moment’s hesitation, they spurred their horses into the woods.

Perhaps they thought she was only a wandering maiden in distress and did not know she was the forest girl. But they would know as soon as they saw her close. She must leave, and quickly. But the bear remained.

An idea sprang into her mind. She stomped the ground as hard as she could, throwing her hands into the air and roaring in anger. Most bears might have backed away at that. But this bear had cubs. She would charge, or so Loren hoped.

Her hopes were justified as the bear took two half-steps, then broke into a run. The ground shook for true at that, and Loren’s legs tensed in readiness. When the bear was scarce more than a yard away, Loren leapt to the side, rolling away and sideways across the slope. The bear could not stop so quickly, and as she dug her paws into the soil it gave way beneath her. She tumbled to her side and rolled head over paws down the slope. Loren thought her roars might shake the leaves from the trees, and a great plume of dust followed her.

But Loren could take no time to exult in her quick thinking. She must escape, and quickly. She ran up the slope and away from the constables as quickly as her feet could carry her. The cubs fled into the cave in terror, but Loren paid her no mind.

She reached the top of the ridge in no time and plunged down its far side, her feet lent sudden speed by the slope. Just as she passed over the top, she heard loud shouting behind her. The constables had encountered the bear. Perhaps it would occupy them long enough for Loren to make good on her escape.

She forced herself to slow, though every part of her screamed to go faster. A moment’s escape would mean nothing if she fell and broke a leg, or her neck. She picked her way only on solid ground and rocks, avoiding any patch of ground that looked like it might slide out from beneath her.

But with all her caution, haste and bad luck caught her at last. A rock she’d thought sturdy shifted and tumbled beneath her foot. Loren went down with a cry. She twisted to land on her front and planted her hands in the turf. It hurt, but she knew the bow on her back would not withstand a tumble.

The bow. She could find a high spot in a tree, wait for the constables to approach, and then plant shafts within them before they knew what had happened.

As quickly as she thought it, she cast the thought aside. Even if she could hit their flesh and not their boiled leather armor, Nightblade was not—could not be—a murderer. And if they caught her, they might let her go if she could convince them Xain had left her. If she took their lives and word of it ever reached civilization, the King’s men would never stop hunting her.

Her only hope lay in escape. So she pushed off the ground, wincing at the sting in her palms, and kept running.

Before long, she heard the thunder of hoofbeats coming down the slope behind her. They had evaded the bear, then, or killed it. She risked a glance over her shoulder, but she could not see them through the trees. That was good. It mean they could not see her either.

But she could not outrun them forever. She scanned the forest on all sides as she fled. Then she saw something that might help: a fallen trunk with a hole dug beneath it by time or animals. Loren made for it and dove in, careful not to snap the bow against the entrance.

Not a moment too soon, for the thundering hooves grew louder and then suddenly they were upon her. But she had hidden in time. She saw a flash of red boiled leather between the trees a few yards away, and then the hoofbeats receded.

Loren waited until she could no longer hear the constables, and then she waited longer still. In the sudden silence of the woods, her pulse sounded like rolling thunder in her ears. Finally, when she was sure they must be gone, she slid out from beneath the log.

A cluster of firethorn lay nearby, unruly but straight as a hedge. It ran south, crosswise to the slope. Loren ducked behind it and slid along, her waist little more than a foot above the ground and her legs splayed out with each step. In silence and shadow she walked, poking her head above the top of the bushes every few moments to ensure the constables still lay out of sight.

Now that she had a moment, she could see that this side of the ridge also ran down to a road, though this road was a narrow thing compared to the King’s road. It ran down this side of the ridge as far as she could see, though she had to imagine it joined back up with the main road at some point far down the line.

She must gamble now; either the constables would make for this smaller road and follow it, hoping to catch her, or they would climb the ridge again and make for the King’s road once again. After thinking for a moment, she decided that seemed the likelier course. They had only seen her, not Xain. That might lead them to believe she had separated for the wizard, and if that were the case, they would most likely return to the main road in hope of catching him.

That was when Loren realized that the forest around her had grown far too quiet.

No sooner had the thought crossed her mind than an arrow sped from between the trees to embed itself in a tree beside her with a thunk. Driven more by instinct than thought, Loren dropped backward to the ground and slid along on hands and heels beneath the firethorn. The arrow had come from behind and above her. Somehow the constables had evaded detection and circled around to her flanks. She had underestimated their woodcraft, and that might be her downfall.

She heard the voice of Corin, the shorter, fatter constable. “Stay your hand! Leave her whole!” Bern, the one who had had a harsher look, shouted a reply that Loren could not make out. Crashing footsteps sounded from higher up the ridge as they came for her.

They were far—much farther than she had feared. Perhaps she could yet evade them.

Once she had passed beneath the firethorn, she rose again and fled in a crouching run. She had grown careless, thinking them city men of little skill, but now that she had their measure she would withhold nothing.

She used every trick she had learned in a lifetime in the Birchwood. Her thoughts faded to a dull noise in the back of her ears, and instinct took over. Her feet naturally found the hardest ground that would leave no print, and she twisted and weaved to avoid snapping any branch. Her fingers gripped the edges of her cloak and pulled it around her, letting its deep brown surround her and fade her into the forest. The footsteps behind her grew quieter, and then faded away completely. She hoped it was because they had fallen behind, and not because they now moved with greater stealth. She pressed on.

Then her eyes fell upon the road far below. There sat a caravan, its many wagons pulled into a rough line by the side of the road. People in bright clothing, presumably the drivers, sat clustered in a group at the head of the line. Men in shirts of mail and shining helms stood guard around them.

But the back of the caravan lay unattended.

No sooner did Loren see it than she made up her mind. She made for the tree line. There were many yards of open space between the forest and the caravans, but that could not be helped. She did not know if she could rely upon evading the constables in the woods, but she did not think they would suspect her of fleeing to the caravan. And if she could only make it to one of the wagons unseen…

The closest guard turned away, and she seized her chance. She broke from the trees and raced across the rocky ground. Never could she remember her feet flying so fast. Her cowl flew back, and her auburn hair streamed behind her like a rooster’s crest. She hid her flight behind low brush where she could, but she placed most of her hope in speed.

No one cried in alarm or drew steel. She made it around the edge of the caravan to the back of the rearmost wagon. Then she decided that that might be the first place they would look, so she slipped down the line to the third wagon from the last. Still no one stood in sight. With no more sound than the wagon’s creak on its axles, she leapt up and over the wagon’s edge, vanishing into the shadows within.

CHAPTER THREE

Once again, Loren sat in darkness with no sound but the blood rushing through her ears. She inspected her surroundings with hasty eyes. Bolts of cloth lay on wooden shelves that lined either side of the wagon, with a thin aisle running up the center.

A merchant’s caravan, then. She hoped that would help. From what Loren knew of the rich, they did not appreciate the eyes of the law and were adept at persuading those eyes to turn away.

But even a cursory look would find her here. The merchants had packed their racks too tightly for Loren to slip in amongst them.

She almost turned and left, but then she heard footsteps in the dirt nearby. Her heart skipped a beat, and she burrowed further down the aisle in the wagon’s center. There she saw that she had been wrong; one shelf near the front of the wagon lay in shadow, and no cloth lay upon it. Mindful of her footfalls, Loren sidled up and slid into the shelf, sliding as far from the aisle as she could manage.

She heard a great shout and the hiss of drawn steel, and for a moment she feared she had been discovered. But after listening to the cries of men outside, she realized they had only spotted the constables. She heard the rapid beat of hooves approaching, and then pulling to a stop not far from the wagon in which she hid.

“We are the King’s men, about his business,” came Corin’s burbling voice.

Welcome back to VlogaNovel, where I live-write a book and self-publish it, all on streaming web video! You can watch and see how to write a book, how to format a book for publishing, and get all kinds of behind-the-scenes details on Nightblade, my serialized heroic fantasy series, which you can’t find anywhere else!

PRE-ORDER THIS BOOK: http://garrettbrobinson.com/nb-2

GET THE FIRST BOOK IN THE SERIES: http://garrettbrobinson.com/nb-1

Here’s what I wrote this hour:


CHAPTER THREE (CONTINUED)

“And what business has the King with us?” came a sharp reply—a woman’s voice, Loren noted.

“We pursue a man and a girl.” This time Bern spoke. “They fled us south on the King’s road. We spotted the girl on that ridge. She may have come among you.”

“No girl came,” said the woman. “We have seen no one since yesterday. But who is this man you seek?”

“He is between our heights,” said Bern. “He may have worn a blue coat, or a dark green cloak. His hair hangs long and curled.”

“We saw him, or one like him,” said the woman.

Loren nearly gasped in the darkness. Xain had come to the caravan already.

“When?” said Corin.

“Yesterday,” said the woman. “Just after the sun had set. He came upon our camp at night, and offered us fair payment for a horse. He refused to rest the night, though we offered him hospitality. Instead he rode on, south along this road.”

The constables remained silent a long moment, or if they spoke Loren could not hear their words.

“He did not have a girl with him?” Corin said at last. “She would have been young, in forester’s garb.”

“Of course he didn’t,” said Bern. “We just saw her.”

“We saw someone,” said Corin. “And pursued her more hotly than might have been wise.” Loren heard an edge in his voice.

“No one was with him,” said the woman. “Alone he arrived, and alone left. Nor have we seen any other since. If you pursued him, I am sorry to have sold him the horse, but we could not have known he deserved justice.”

“Of course, my lady,” said Corin. “Last night, you say?”

“I do.”

“Then we must away. We thank you—”

“Hold,” said Bern. “The girl is near.”

Again they fell quiet, though this time Loren felt sure they must be speaking quietly. It proved true a moment later, as their voices gradually rose louder and louder in anger. Finally Bern spoke again, loud and clear.

“If you have not seen her, it will not matter if we search your wagons.”

“They carry only goods for trade,” said the woman, indignant.

When Corin spoke, he sounded as though he held anger in check. “My stalwart friend is perhaps overeager,” he said. “But mayhap the girl arrived without your knowledge and stowed herself away.”

Loren searched around her in panic. They might not see her from the wagon’s rear, but then again they might, and if they came inside she was lost.

“Come now,” said the woman. “Our guards stand vigilant always. She is not here.”

“Let us see the truth of it, then,” said Bern. His voice had taken on a mean edge that Loren did not like.

Her eyes roved again over the inside of the wagon. No shelf provided a better place to hide than the one upon which she lay. But as she glanced at the floor, her eye caught on something. A shaft of sunlight through a crack in the roof fell upon a board that stood out from the others, protruding from the wagon’s floor. She leaned out from the shelf and tried to grip it with her fingers. It sat loose. She lifted, and a large panel came up within her grasp, rising silently.

Beneath lay a compartment, cunningly hidden. Within were several packages wrapped in brown cloth. But more important, plenty of space remained for Loren to hide herself. Like a snake she slid from the shelf and into the compartment. She lifted the wood panel on all her fingers, lowering it into place without a sound. She could not be sure it lay perfectly in place, but she could do no better.

She heard the constables moving down the caravan toward her wagon. Soon their horses’ hooves sounded nearby, near enough it seemed to be within the wagon itself. She heard a gruff snort, and suddenly the wagon shook. Heavy boots thudded onto its floor, and Loren barely kept from yelping in fright.

Through the cracks in the panel above her face, Loren spied Bern’s grim features. The constable walked up the length of the wagon, peering into every corner. She could not be sure, but Loren thought she saw him stick his nose right into the shelf where she had hidden. But after a moment he turned around again and stalked to the back of the wagon. The whole thing shook again as he climbed out.

The constables moved further and further away while Loren waited for the next twenty minutes—twenty minutes that felt like an eon. At long last she heard conversation again, though it was too far away to make out, and then she heard the thunder of galloping hoofbeats. Still she remained hidden, waiting for some clue or sign that it would be safe to emerge.

Instead she heard voices once again. One was a man with a deep, booming tone, and the other was the woman she had heard earlier.

“They found none of the compartments?” said the woman.

“None, my lady,” said the guard. “I was with him every step of the way. Every one he walked upon with never a glance at his feet.”

“That is good,” said the woman. “Though it was too close a thing regardless. I do not like surprises.”

“Nor I, my lady,” boomed the man.

Their conversation ceased then, and though she could hear nothing Loren thought they must have moved away. So after waiting for a few minutes of silence, she reached up once more and lifted the wood panel off. A quick glance at the wagon’s rear told her that no one stood by to see. She slid out of the compartment and replaced the panel, then crept to the back of the wagon.

Now guards stood in thin-stretched rows down both sides of the caravan, eyes turned outward. Her escape would prove more difficult than her arrival, it would seem. But as she surveyed their positions, trying to work out the best angle to leave, a child appeared from nowhere.

She sprang up from below the edge of the wagon’s back panel, a tiny thing years younger than Loren with skin as black as pitch. She wore a gown all of purple velvet with yellow brocade worked up and down its length. Her eyes glinted with the innocence of a child, wide as dinner plates, and wider still as she gaped at Loren.

“Who are you?” cried the girl. “Are you the one the constables sought?”

Loren could not help herself—she shrieked and fled for the front of the wagon. The opening there was smaller than at the rear, but still her slight frame let her slip through it easily. She dropped to the ground and found herself facing a yard of bared steel.

She froze. Her eyes traveled up the length of the sword to the man who held it. Loren knew herself tall for a woman, but this man dwarfed any she had any seen. His skin, like the girl, was dark as midnight, except upon his hands where it fairly glowed pink. But his eyes held Loren’s, for they were solemn and uncompromising as a stone. He wore a shirt of chain and a silver helmet like the other guards, but too he wore steel pauldrons wrought with gold inlay, grander than any of the other guards she had seen.

An instant she spent taking it in, and then her knees buckled and she collapsed to the ground. She cowered at his feet, unable to tear her gaze away from the steel point that waited, waited to leap forward and plunge into her chest.

“Who are you?” said the man. She recognized the booming voice from earlier.

“I…I…” she stammered. The word Nightblade leapt into her mind and then vanished like a puff of smoke.

“Gregor! Lower your blade.”

The woman arrived. Not only from her coloring, but from her eyes and the shape of her face, Loren knew at once that she must be the little girl’s mother. They could have stood on two sides of a mirror, if their years were closer. But where the girl was all bounce and innocence, in the woman’s face Loren saw a grim determination more steely than the sword that Gregor brought down to point at the grass, obedient to his lady’s command.

The woman strode up, swirling her dress around her with a flourish. Like a wizard’s trick, the little girl appeared just behind her mother’s legs. Loren thought at once of the bear cubs from that morning, little more than an hour ago and an eternity at the same time.

“You are the girl the constables sought, I imagine,” said the woman. No trace of a question lined her words.

“I…I am,” said Loren, finding her voice at last. More of her wits gathered to her, and she hastily added, “My lady.”

“Help her up.”

Gregor seized Loren’s shoulders and hauled her to her feet. To Loren it felt as though he would fling her into the sky, but his hands were nearly gentle as he set her down on her heels. The woman gestured with two fingers. Gregor took three quick steps back, fast and yet unhurried. The woman strode forward to take his place. Her hand leapt out to cup Loren’s chin and tilt it up. She studied Loren’s face for a moment.

“How came you by that eye?” she said. “Not from the constables, I hope.”

“No,” said Loren, unsure how to take this strange turn of events. She winced as the woman probed the black eye with a finger. “That gift was given before their pursuit began.”

“Hmm.” The woman removed her hand and stepped back. “May I have your name, or do you choose to withhold it?”

Loren blinked, then bowed. “I am Loren, my lady, of the family Nelda.”

“Damaris,” said the woman, inclining her head. “Of the family Yerrin. Well met.”

“And you,” said Loren, keeping her head and most of her body bent. She could not shake a keen awareness of Gregor and his sword.

“Oh, stand, girl,” said Damaris. “You stand before a merchant, not the Queen.”

Loren straightened. “Thank you.”

“You are pursued, and rather hotly, it seems,” Damaris went on, as though Loren had not spoken. “Tell me why.”

“They spoke the truth. I traveled with the wiz—” Loren clamped her mouth shut, her cheeks flaming red. “With the man they sought.”

Damaris’ nostrils flared. “You nearly said wizard. I thought I heard a secret hidden in their words, but that one is remarkable. I suppose I should count myself lucky the man did not simply cast us all in fire and steal the horse he needed.” Her eyes flicked past Loren to the wagon. “But tell me. The constables were most thorough in their search. How did they miss you?”

Loren heard something in Damaris’ tone, and thought she knew the answer already. “I found a loose board in the wagon’s floor, my lady,” she replied. “I hid myself beneath it.”

“In that wagon?” said Damaris, pointing.

“Yes, my lady.”

Damaris’ voice took on an undercurrent of steel. “And did you see anything else concealed within the floor?”

Once again, Loren thought her answer already known. And so she said, “Not a thing, my lady,” she said. “The space lay empty, with plenty of room to stretch my legs.”

Something in Damaris’ face relaxed at that, and her lips twitched in a smile. “It is such a pleasure to find wit and charm in people not naturally raised to it,” she said.

Loren bowed again. “My lady is too kind,” said Loren. “I give only the truth.”

As the tension on the air melted away, the girl behind Damaris emerged again as though an unspoken signal had summoned her. She surveyed Loren with wide eyes that roved up and down. Loren had the uncomfortable feeling of being studied like cattle.

“Will we give her to the constables, mother?” said the girl.

Loren’s heart slid into her throat for a moment, but Damaris shook her head. “We will not,” she said. “They sought the wizard more keenly, I think, and he abandoned her. Besides, putting her in the hands of the law would gain us no profit.”

Loren seized upon the hidden meaning behind the words. I know of the hidden compartments and what lies within them, she thought. If they give me to the constables, I might speak of them. It gave her a sense of security. For Nightblade, it seemed the most natural thing in the world; when two strangers upon the road walked together outside of the King’s law, neither could gain much from betrayal of the other.

Then she thought again, and realized that might not be so. If such knowledge was indeed dangerous, Damaris would be better served by Loren’s corpse than by her presence. Loren’s eyes flitted to Gregor and the bare steel he still bore in his huge gloved fist.

As though she read Loren’s mind, Damaris shook her head. “Fear not, girl. Not needlessly do we spill blood or take lives. Such policy may serve one who lives by the sword, but rarely is it profitable to those who live by the coin.” Again she motioned with two fingers. Gregor slid his sword into its scabbard—though somewhat slower than Loren would have liked.

“Thank you, my lady,” said Loren. “It would seem I am in your debt.”

“I have given you nothing,” Damaris replied. “I have merely neglected to take anything away. Now, where are you bound?”

Loren thought of a lie she might tell, but the thought went too long and she abandoned it. “Cabrus.”

“And your wizard friend?”

“Cabrus as well.”

“Do you seek for him, then?” said Damaris.

That gave Loren pause. Did she? She was not sure. She only knew that she had begun her journey with Cabrus in mind, and nothing had given her cause to change course. But Xain? Mayhap she would find him, but she would not be surprised if she were quit of him forever.

“I do not, my lady,” said Loren. “He seemed eager to part ways with me, and I have no reason to think that may have changed in the day since.”

“And did he give you that kiss upon your face?” said Damaris.

Loren shook her head quickly. “No. In fact, he rescued me from…” She paused. She had nearly said my father, but something held her tongue. Damaris did not need to know, and doubtless did not want to know, why Loren fled or what she fled from.

She said instead, “I was trapped. Xain provided the means of my escape. Though I may not know why he left, I bear him no ill will.”

Damaris pursed her lips and nodded. “Very well, then. If Cabrus be your destination, then our paths lay upon the same road. You will travel with us, at least for now.

Welcome back to VlogaNovel, where I live-write a book and self-publish it, all on streaming web video! You can watch and see how to write a book, how to format a book for publishing, and get all kinds of behind-the-scenes details on Nightblade, my serialized heroic fantasy series, which you can’t find anywhere else!

This should be the second to last hour of my first draft. Episode Two is nearing completion, and after I finish it (hopefully tonight) the editing process begins!

PRE-ORDER THIS BOOK: http://garrettbrobinson.com/nb-2

GET THE FIRST BOOK IN THE SERIES: http://garrettbrobinson.com/nb-1

Here’s what I wrote this hour:


CHAPTER THREE (CONTINUED)

Loren swayed on her feet, light-headed. “I would not be a burden upon you, my lady.”

“No,” said Damaris. “You would not.” She turned with a whirl of her dress and strode away, Gregor close on her heels.

But the daughter remained. Her eyes gazed wide and white, striking Loren again with their intensity. Dark brown were her irises, making the whites all the more prominent.

After her mother had left earshot, the girl stepped forward. “I am Annis,” she mumbled.

Loren bowed. “I am Loren, of the family Nelda. Well met.”

“I know who you are,” said the girl, giggling. “You told mother.”

“Still, manners are never out of place.”

Annis’ smile dampened. “I don’t think the man who gave you that eye had very good manners.”

Loren’s hand rose to her left eye, brushing gingerly against the dark bruise. “No, he did not.”

“Are you a great fighter?” said Annis. “Have you killed many men?”

“With this?” Loren laughed and pointed at the bow. “This is no bow for fighting, nothing worthy of a great name. Squirrelbane, you might call it.” But she felt keenly aware of the dagger on her belt, and she drew her cloak a little closer over it.

Annis giggled again, oblivious. “You’re funny. Come. You may ride with me on my wagon.”

Loren followed the little girl off toward the front of the caravan. But as she neared the front wagon, she felt a keen gaze upon her. Glancing up, she saw the dark and solemn eyes of Gregor fixed upon her. Though she met his gaze, he did not look away.

CHAPTER FOUR

The caravan did not wait long before resuming their trek south. Annis rode in a carriage near the front. Loren balked at the sight of it, all beautiful stained mahogany well-crafted and stained dark. She did not want to impose upon Damaris’ hospitality any more than she had already. But Annis only laughed and showed her inside, where Loren found it empty.

“I have my own carriage,” said Annis. “I do not ride in mother’s unless I want to, but it’s terribly boring. Mother and Gregor talk of nothing but the road south, while Mother and Gretchen talk of nothing but the accounting books and how much profit they’ve made upon the road.”

“Have you traveled far upon it?” said Loren.

Annis shrugged. “This is my first journey. I do not know how far is far, you might say. Only this summer has mother consented to my presence on the caravan. I have lived upon the High King’s seat all my life.”

Loren gawked. “The High King’s seat? I have heard it is a place of wonder. Are the streets gilded with gold?”

“Goodness no,” said Annis with a titter. “They are cobbled, like any city.” Then her mouth twisted with doubt. “Well, like I imagine any city would be, I suppose. We have only passed two upon the road, and one of those reeked with plague. Mother did not let me open my window, much less leave the carriage.”

Loren shuddered. She had never known plague, but some of the village elders had told tales. A great plague had swept across Selvan when her grandparents were children, and while it was worst in the cities as always, the Birchwood had not emerged unscathed.

“But I speak too much of myself,” said Annis. “Mother and my tutors say that is always my way. Tell me of yourself. What do you seek in Cabrus?”

Loren felt her guard rise. “I come from the Birchwood,” she said. “It is a great forest, the greatest in Selvan.”

“Odd,” said Annis, turning to look out the window. “I have not heard of it.”

“But you have seen it,” said Loren, “if you rode along the Melnar or the King’s road at all. It runs north of the road from the High King’s Seat until the road turns south and crosses the river.”

“Oh, I think I saw it,” said Annis, nodding. Her eyes still wandered out the window.

“You could not have helped it,” said Loren, feeling her hackles rise.

“And how did you come by that?” said Annis, pointing once again to Loren’s black eye.

Loren felt taken aback. The girl’s manner seemed overly frank, her questions brief and to the bone. Rather than answer, she asked, “How old are you?”

“I have seen twelve years,” said Annis.

Loren smirked. “Ah. Still a child, then.”

It worked. Annis straightened on her bench, her brows drawing together and her lips pinching in an angry scowl. “I am not a child! I am nearly full-grown, for our women do not grow tall. And I am half again as clever as any of my tutor’s other pupils. He has told me.”

Loren leaned against her cushions and raised her hands. “I meant no offense.”

Annis sat back as well, and her face slackened somewhat. But her brow still furrowed, and her eyes no longer wandered as though Loren were a dog that had ceased to entertain.

Feeling more at ease, Loren decided she might as well answer the child’s question. What could it matter? Her father lay in their house far away now, still nursing the wound in his thigh. The thought brought no small swell of joy to her gut.

“As for my eye, it was a gift from my father,” said Loren. Annis’ face melted into concern and disbelief. Her mouth opened into a small o. “He did not take kindly to my desire to leave home. He pursued me, and the wizard the constables sought, and when he found us he gave me this. And more.”

She twisted in her seat, putting her body between the dagger and Annis’ watchful eyes. Then she lifted the edge of her tunic to reveal her ribs. Black bruises stood out against the pale white of her skin, left by her father’s boot just two days ago. Other, older bruises shone yellow, older gifts from his meaty fists. Loren pulled the shirt up higher, until Annis could see the bruises that ran across her chest and all across her back.

She expected the young girl to gasp in horror and shock, as she had before. Instead, Annis squeaked and leapt across the carriage to seize Loren’s tunic and yank it down. She released the garment as though it were a snake and withdrew, retreating into herself and sinking into the purple cushions of the carriage interior.

“What is wrong?” said Loren. “I did not mean to frighten you.”

“Frighten me?” squeaked Annis. “I…why not just strip naked?”

Loren blinked.

Annis stared back, and slowly her eyes focused in recognition. “What, do all the peasants of your village simply walk around naked beneath the sun? Are you savages?”

Loren felt a scowl twist her features. “I can say at least that we are not partial to insults. What is the matter? We are maidens both, unless your people have stranger bed customs than we.”

Annis stuck her nose in the air. “We do not go around parading our naked bodies. It is unseemly.”

Loren snorted. “You are afraid of yourselves, you mean. Very well. I shall not trouble you with my savage customs and peasants’ body.”

She pushed away from the bench and threw open the carriage door, striding out onto the grass. She ignored the protesting cry from Annis behind her. After a moment the carriage door slammed shut again.

Loren walked the rest of the day. The caravan seemed in no great hurry, their horses plodding along at an easy pace, and she found it simple to keep up. Soon she forgot her annoyance with Annis and spent her time enjoying the sights of the strange land around her. The ridge she had crossed to the west soon turned into a low mountain range that ran due south, following the course of the road—or, she supposed, the road followed the mountains.

Every so often she looked back toward the caravan to see Gregor studying her beneath his gleaming helm. Though she tried several times to catch him when he did not observe her, she never could. Soon she had to make up her mind to ignore him. He served as Damaris’ guard, after all. How could Loren blame him for being suspicious, she a mysterious girl known to be wanted by constables?

She had reached the caravan in the middle of the afternoon, and soon the sun neared the tops of the mountains to the right. The wagons pulled to a stop for the night. Unlike for the midday meal when Loren had found them, this time they pulled into a tight group, circling by the side of the road. Gregor’s men disembarked and began preparations for the night, beginning with a large, purple, felt tent set well away from the road. Loren did not need to guess who it was meant for.

She decided to head for the trees while some light remained, hoping to hunt another rabbit or perhaps a squirrel for dinner. Damaris had offered her food, but she did not want to endanger her hospitality by seeming to great a burden on the caravan’s supplies. And besides, after Annis spoke to her mother, perhaps they would want Loren to leave. But before she could set off for the woods, she heard footsteps and turned to find Annis.

The girl stood there, hands clasped behind her back and eyes fixed on the ground. She looked for all the world like some village child about to receive chastisement for wrongdoing. Loren almost smirked, then thought she had pushed the bounds of good guest manners already.

“I am sorry I insulted you,” said Annis. “I didn’t mean it. Only…we are not so free with ourselves as you are.”

“No apology is necessary,” said Loren, feeling very gracious as she bowed. “I should not have presumed to be so forward.”

Annis looked up at last. “You’re not mad, then?”

Loren sighed inwardly. She felt no anger, but she could not help the thought that Annis would annoy her again before the caravan reached Cabrus.

But outwardly she smiled. “Of course not. I make for the woods to catch myself dinner. When I return, would you sup with me?”

Annis’ eyes grew wide again, as they had when Loren first saw her. “Of course! I would be delighted!”

Loren smiled again and made for the woods. Though she saw a squirrel and a rabbit, both her shots went wide and one of the arrows vanished into the underbrush. She was about to give up, when just as the last light died in the sky she finally spotted a quail. Her arrow flew true, and she slung the bird over her shoulder to bring it back to camp.

In no time she built a small fire and began to prepare the bird. But before she had it ready for the fire, she felt a presence in the darkness just beyond her firelight. She looked up and squinted, letting her eyes adjust. Damaris’ dark face appeared, her eyes glinting in the flickering flames.

“Did you find our provisions unsatisfactory?” she said. “I could have had one of my men fetch a bird for you, if you wished.”

Loren laid the quail down and stood quickly, bowing at the waist. “No, of course, my lady. Only, I did not want to impose upon your generosity any more than I already had. Free passage south is too great a gift for one such as me. I would not ask you to feed me as well.”

“And yet you do not even take our passage,” said Damaris. “For you spent much of the day on your feet.”

Loren blushed, feeling somehow off-balance. Had she delivered some insult? These people had strange customs, and she seemed to break them at every turn. “I sought the open air. I have never been in a carriage before, and I found the motion disorienting.” Somehow she did not think it would improve her situation if she confessed that Annis had been rude and called her a savage.

“I shall tell the driver to be more gentle, then,” said Damaris. Her voice betrayed no anger, and yet Loren felt more and more like she had angered the merchant. The driver bore no fault, Loren knew, but she had no wish to argue the point.

“I will happily ride tomorrow, my lady,” said Loren, bowing low. “And I apologize if I offered any insult.”

“Oh, do not trouble yourself,” said Damaris. “Now, Annis has taken it into her head to sup with you. I said that you likely had much on your mind and wished to be left alone.”

Annis appeared behind her mother’s legs, like a goblin leaping from the dark. “She does not, mother! She asked me!”

Loren gulped.

This should (maybe? hopefully?) be the last hour of my first draft. Episode Two is nearing completion, and after I finish it (hopefully tonight) the editing process begins!

Welcome back to VlogaNovel, where I live-write a book and self-publish it, all on streaming web video! You can watch and see how to write a book, how to format a book for publishing, and get all kinds of behind-the-scenes details on Nightblade, my serialized heroic fantasy series, which you can’t find anywhere else!

PRE-ORDER THIS BOOK: http://garrettbrobinson.com/nb-2

GET THE FIRST BOOK IN THE SERIES: http://garrettbrobinson.com/nb-1

Here’s what I wrote this hour:


CHAPTER FOUR (CONTINUED)

“She would be most welcome to sup with me,” said Loren quickly. “I did offer her, as she says. But I would never think to pull her from your company.”

“Oh, I think it is good of her to spend time with others,” said Damaris. “Indeed, I often have trouble prying her from my side.” Her stern look seemed to melt away, and a warm smile spread across her features.

Annis squealed and leapt forward, sitting on the ground beside the fire without a second thought to the find purple dress she wore. Damaris inclined her head, and then turned to stride away into the darkness.

“What did you catch?” said Annis, leaning forward.

“It’s a quail,” said Loren. “It will be ready soon.” She picked the bird back up and kept preparing it for the fire.

“Are you a good hunter?” said Annis.

“I can feed myself,” said Loren. “But I learned from a boy in my village. He can bring a stag down at full sprint. He…” With memories of Chet came a lance of pain, and she thought for a moment her heart might break. She stopped talking and bowed her head over the quail.

Annis did not notice anything. “What was your forest like?” she said. “Did you like it there? I have only ever seen the city and the lands around it. This is my first time in the wilderness.”

Loren would hardly have called the land around the Selvan roads a “wilderness,” but after their last conversation she thought better than to mention it. “The forest was a good home to me,” she said. “The people within it were less kind. My parents notably so.”

Annis’ face fell. “Were they very cruel?” she said. “They seem like the wicked stepmothers you hear of in stories.”

Loren snorted. “In stories, the stepmother locks the daughter in a high tower and forbids her to see her true love. She does not beat the daughter for failing to chop enough logs each day. She does not whip the daughter for mussing her dress.”

Her fingers had grown tight around her hunting knife. She forced them to loosen.

“How could you stand it?” said Annis, eyes wider than Loren had ever seen them. “I think I would have gone mad.”

Loren smirked. She looked up and into the darkness to other side of her, as though searching for an eavesdropper. “I might have. I might be mad. Did you ever think of that, my little lady?” She flipped the blade over on the back of her palm, and drops of blood flew from it into the dirt.

Annis gave a little squeal, and Loren was glad to see her smile with delight rather than cower in fear. “How did you learn to do that?” she said. “I wish I could flip a knife!”

Loren chuckled and turned back to the quail. She carved off long strips of its flesh and impaled them on sticks from the ground, then stuck the sticks in the ground to cook over the fire. “That little trick, and a fair few stories, I learned from an old man named Bracken.”

“Bracken?” said Annis. She cocked her head and narrowed her eyes.

Loren raised her hands. “I know what you may think. I, too, doubt it was his true name. He used to say that true names were powerful, and that only a fool gave theirs out. He was an old man, and he would come upon our village in autumn every year. He always carried a great sack on his back, filled with metal pans and hunting knives and old boots. He’d trade them in the village, but never for coin. Always he traded for other things, for food or trinkets or a nice strong bow.”

“A peddler!” said Annis.

Loren cocked her head. “I do not know this word. To us, he was only Bracken.”

“He was a peddler,” said Annis, drawing up where she sat and puffing out her chest in pride. “They move from town to town selling and trading. They often tell stories as well. Tall as a peddler’s tale, we say in the city.”

Loren shrugged. “Well, Bracken told tales, that’s true enough. Simple tales of things happening in the nine kingdoms today, and grand tales of knights and dragons from faraway yesteryears. When I went out to fell trees, often he’d follow me and sit in the crook of a tree above and spin his stories.”

“I love stories of dragons,” said Annis. “Is it true they’re still to be found out in the world?”

Loren cocked her head with a little smile. “Truly? Dragons? I did not take you for one who sought to be a mighty warrior.”

Annis smiled. “My tutors said the same thing. Soon I turned it into a joke, and said that I only liked the dragons so much because they had so much gold, as my family did.”

Loren chuckled, surprised to find it genuine. “I like a quick wit.”

“But come, tell me,” said Annis. “What were your favorite stories? Did you like to hear of the princesses who overcame their wicked stepparents? You must have hoped to escape, as they did.”

Loren sat silent for a moment. She had drifted dangerously close to telling her true purpose. But Annis was only a child. Who would believe her tales, if she even told them? And if they did believe her, what then? What would they do, arrest Loren for what she wanted, but had not yet achieved?

Loren leaned forward and pulled the sticks of quail from the fire before she spoke. “Have you heard the tale of Mennet the Mist?”

Annis took a stick, her eyes alight, and leaned back to wrap her arms around her knees. She took a large bite and chewed noisily. “No. Who was he?”

“Mennet the Mist was the greatest thief who ever lived,” said Loren. “It was said he struck a deal with the shadows themselves, weaving them into a great cloak that would let him melt into any darkness and appear in any shadow, anywhere. Even in the vaults of cruel kings and tyrants.”

“Ooh,” said Annis. “Was he a good man, then?”

“Not always,” said Loren, shaking her head. “He grew up poor and barefoot in the streets of some city—I forget which. He fell in with cutthroats and brigands, and when he was old enough he lived as a highwayman. He and his band would waylay travelers and steal from caravans. Like this one.”

Annis looked over her shoulder.

“But one day, as he and his men rode through the land in search of more plentiful bounty, they came upon a village. The King in that land was a vicious man, and any insolence was met with fire and sword. Some man in the village had failed to notice the King as he rode by, and so the King sent his soldiers there to burn the village to the ground.

“Some of Mennet’s men wanted to ride by and ignore the fire. Others wanted to enter the village and steal what they could before the place burned to the ground. But Mennet spurred his horse into the town, for he had heard a babe’s cry. He found her in a house right in the middle of the village, her parents fled or lying cold in the dirt. Mennet leapt through a window and scooped her up, but then fire surrounded him. That is when he pleaded with the shadows, and they enveloped him. The house collapsed, and Mennet’s men thought he had died. But then he stepped out from the shadows of the trees behind them. Terrified, all the men fled.

“It did not matter. Mennet had finished his days as a highwayman, and he turned his talents to doing good. First he stole all the King’s gold and brought it to the villagers who had lost their homes, repaying them ten times for the damage.

“Then he traveled across the land seeking other wrongs and turning them right. If a nobleman plotted the death of his lord, he might find his private letters taken and presented to the lord, and constables soon knocking at his door. If a King plotted the overthrow of the High King, Mennet would know, and that King would find the other lands united against him.”

“So he was a good man, then,” said Annis. “I’ll bet he slipped his sharp blades into more than a few backs as well.”

Loren shook her head quickly. “No. Mennet never took a life. He was too clever, too quick. No one could bring him to a fight—they found themselves outmaneuvered first, their weapons vanished from their belts, their men unwilling to fight beside them. Mennet thought that only Kings could judge, and then only if justice lay on their side. When they abandoned justice, Mennet turned it upon them.”

Annis sat in silence for a moment, chewing on her quail. Then, in a small voice, she said, “Do you mean to find Mennet, then?”

Loren stared at the flames. “He lived many and more a yesteryear ago. No. The world has not seen Mennet’s like in an eon. But when Bracken told me those tales, they stayed in my mind. I could not forget them. And whenever father grew angry and struck, when my mother shrilled and pinched and locked me in a cupboard, I remembered Mennet. I remembered that Mennet did more good with his mind and his words than any King ever did with a mighty sword and an army at his back. My father seemed weak then, my mother a foolish shrew. And I hoped, then, that one day I could escape them and become the person they should have been to raise me.”

The air dropped to silence again. Loren realized that she had not touched the quail yet, and nearly half of it was gone. She lifted her eyes at last to Annis, putting on a mock scowl.

“Are you going to eat all my hard-won bird?” she said.

Annis smirked and took another bite. “Only if you refuse to.”

Loren picked up a stick at last, eating without seeing the food in her fingers. She could see only the fire, the red and orange shape of it leaping up and down, swaying back and forth with every gust of wind.

CHAPTER FIVE

After they ate, Loren tried to find a place to sleep in the middle of the wagons. But for some reason it felt strange to lay in firelight, surrounded and guarded by strange men with blades. After a time she rose and took herself beyond the line of wagons, where she could not see the sentries further out in the dark. Then her head rested easily upon the ground, and soon fell asleep.

The next morning dawned bright and early, and Loren rose before most in the camp. She was hardly surprised to see that Gregor was one of the few who rose before her, and as soon as she rose his gaze snapped to her. She decided to give him a little wave. He did not so much as blink.

The caravan seemed to take an eon to get moving, and Loren nearly screamed from impatience. But eventually the drivers mounted their seats and spurred the horses, and everyone rode south.

Loren had seen much of the countryside, so she spent her time inspecting the caravan instead. Two carriages led a dozen wagons of varying sizes. The caravan Loren had hidden in was one of the smaller ones. The two biggest wagons had eight wheels each, and were nearly as wide as the road.

She let her course run back and forth across the caravan, peering into the backs of what wagons she could. She had heard Damaris say that other caravans had hidden compartments, not just the one she had entered. She wondered if all of them held packages wrapped in brown cloth, and what was in them. She did not know what could be so valuable that Damaris would seek to hide it from the constables. Something against the King’s law, no doubt, but Loren did not even know what that could be.

Annis tried walking with her at the start of the day, but she soon tired. “I don’t know how you do this for hours and hours,” said Annis, her cheeks puffing in and out with each breath. “I can scarcely keep pace with the wagons.”

“But the drivers hardly touch their reins,” said Loren.

“The horses seem not to need it,” said Annis. Soon she abandoned Loren and retired to her carriage.

After some hours had passed, Damaris emerged from her own carriage and mounted a horse that Gregor brought to her. Then she rode beside the caravan, sometimes spurring to a gallop and ranging ahead at the edge of eyesight, sometimes content to walk beside the wagons and match their pace.

THE LAST HOUR OF THE FIRST DRAFT! FOR REALZ! THEN WE’RE EDITING!

Welcome back to VlogaNovel, where I live-write a book and self-publish it, all on streaming web video! You can watch and see how to write a book, how to format a book for publishing, and get all kinds of behind-the-scenes details on Nightblade, my serialized heroic fantasy series, which you can’t find anywhere else!

PRE-ORDER THIS BOOK: http://garrettbrobinson.com/nb-2

GET THE FIRST BOOK IN THE SERIES: http://garrettbrobinson.com/nb-1

Here’s what I wrote this hour:


CHAPTER FIVE (CONTINUED)

Wherever she went, Gregor came close behind on his own steed. Loren watched with interest.

After some time, Damaris turned the horse toward Loren and rode up. She reined in a few feet away, the horse blowing a great gout of breath out through its nostrils. The air tousled Loren’s hair. Gregor sat just behind her, his eyes never leaving Loren’s face.

“You seem quite interested in our horses,” said Damaris.

Loren flushed. “Where I come from, no one owns a steed. I have seen them only rarely, though I always dreamed of owning one.”

“Would you like to ride one?” said Damaris.

For a moment, Loren could not speak. “I…I am afraid I would only embarrass myself,” she said. “I have never sat a saddle in my life.”

“It is not so hard as you seem to think,” said Damaris. “And you wear the right clothing for it. You would not look silly riding sidesaddle, as I do.” She slid from the horse’s back and drew its reins into one hand as she approached.

“I…you do not look…” Loren’s heart raced as the horse neared. It had a coat of deep, reddish brown, not black like she had always wanted. But the color reminded her of her own hair. The horse stared at her with wide, gentle eyes, like great pools of black water.

“Come,” said Damaris. “He is gentle, I promise.  Give me your bow. It takes skill to ride with one of those.”

Loren unslung the bow from her back and handed it over, eyeing the horse with wonder.

“Now raise your foot.”

Loren obeyed without thinking. Damaris seized her boot and placed it in the stirrup. Then she placed Loren’s hand on the saddle horn.

“Now just step up,” said Damaris. “Imagine you are climbing a rock. The horse will remain as steady as that.”

Loren took a deep breath and pushed up. She swung her leg up and over, and before she knew it she had gained the saddle. She sat there for a moment, both hands wrapped around the saddle horn, too terrified to budge.

“Your other foot,” said Damaris, a wry twist in her tone.

Loren looked down. Her other boot hung loose. Flushing, she placed it in the other stirrup. “Thank you,” she said in a small voice.

“Come now. I will walk with you.”

Putting action to her words, Damaris walked forward. Loren did not anticipate the sudden motion, and nearly pitched backward out of the saddle. But somehow she kept her balance and sat straight once again. The saddle bounced uncomfortably against her rear, and she feared that if the horse increased its pace even a little it would send her flying. And yet, she rode. She was on a horse, for the first time in her life.

“You sit too high and try too hard for balance,” said Damaris. “Bend your back somewhat to lower your weight, and cling tighter with your thighs. Do not fear to hold the horse’s neck. It will not mind unless you tug too hard on the mane.”

She pushed Loren’s leg to demonstrate, then hunched her own body lower to show her how to sit. Loren tried it and felt the saddle’s impacts lessen. Unbidden, a grin spread across her face.

“It is so gentle!” said Loren. “I thought it would be harder.”

“Well, you are only walking, after all,” said Damaris, and again a smile had crept into her words. “Travel at this speed grants little benefit, other than freedom from your burdens. Mayhap you can learn to press a horse to speed, but this is enough for now.”

They walked that way for a while, Gregor close at hand to Loren’s right, Damaris walking to her left. With every passing moment she felt more comfortable with the constant rolling motion of the horse’s back. After a time, however, she felt a soreness creeping up her legs, the muscles tense and knotted after clinging so hard to the horse’s side. Her rear end felt as though it might be bruised.

“I thank you greatly, my lady,” said Loren earnestly. “But perhaps I shall walk again, now. If I stay here too long, I fear I will lose the use of my legs.”

Damaris chuckled. “You take to horseback easily, but perhaps you are right. It is not wise to overexert oneself on the first day. But before you dismount, you must try trotting. Gregor.”

The man rode up, and Damaris passed him the reins over the horse’s neck. He seized them in one hand. Loren’s stomach did a somersault.

“Remember, balance yourself with the horse’s neck,” said Damaris. Then she stepped away and gave the horse’s haunch a gentle slap.

The horse broke into a gentle trot, but to Loren it was like the earth buckled beneath her. She wrapped her legs around the horse’s belly and bent over its back, gripping its coat as hard as she could with both hands. Somehow she stayed on, but the saddle horn slammed into her stomach again and again, until soon she cried out with the pain.

Gregor gave a tug on the reins, and both horses came to a swift stop. Loren only shook for a moment, unable to command her body to move. At long last she pulled her right foot from the stirrup and swung it over. She slid off, but at the last moment her left boot caught in its stirrup, and she fell over backward to the ground. She felt her face grow beet red as she made her way back to her feet.

Damaris approached, holding out Loren’s bow. “A fair effort, for your first time,” she said. “Do not be discouraged. No one learns to ride well in an hour, or even a day.”

“Th-thank you again, my lady,” said Loren. “You are too kind. But I think I will walk by the wagons now.”

Damaris smiled and remounted. “Very well. If you are still with us tomorrow, we will try again.”

She and Gregor rode off before Loren could explain that she had no intention of leaving before they reached Cabrus. Terrified as she might have been atop the beast, riding a horse had been a lifelong dream come true. Even as she winced at the soreness that lined her legs, she watched Damaris canter away with envy.

Midday came, and Damaris called the caravan to a halt for lunch. The caravans stopped all in a line, as Loren had found them the day before. Annis disembarked from her carriage and came to eat with Loren once again. Loren did not enjoy the thought of hunting again, so this time she gratefully accepted Annis’ offer of food.

“It was so funny to see you on the horse!” said Annis. “I was much worse than you on my first day. But then, I was much younger as well.”

“It was wonderful,” said Loren. “I hope to do it again. I have always wanted a horse of my own.”

“To roam the land as a wealthy thief,” said Annis, a light growing in her eyes. “Riding from town to town with a bag of gold on your back. It sounds glorious.”

Loren looked at her askance. “I recall no such words. A thief, you say? Some might say it is a foolish wish, and little would see glory within it.”

“Oh, come now,” said Annis, leaning in close and dropping her voice to a murmur. “You cannot fool me. After all that talk of Mennet last night? That is your wish, is it not? To become a great righter of wrongs? Melting from the shadows to deal justice? I could see the light within your eyes when you spoke of it.”

Loren swallowed hard and focused on her food. Fool! she thought. She had been far too free with her words, and Annis was perhaps not so starry-eyed as Loren had thought. What would she do, ride across the nine kingdoms and proclaim her dream to become the greatest thief since Mennet? Those who did not laugh at her as an ignorant child would name her criminal and turn her over to the constables.

“I desire no such thing,” said Loren. “I thought Mennet used his skills honorably. But only a fool would seek to win her fortune through thievery.”

“Or speak so openly about it if she did,” said Annis with a wink. Loren winced again. The girl was not half so silly as she seemed, for all her prudishness. “That was foolish indeed, and you should guard your tongue more closely. But I am not fooled by your naysaying. If you seek to make a name for yourself, I may be able to help with your first conquest already.”

Annis reached into a fold in her cloak. When her hand withdrew, it held a small leather purse. She tossed it gently in her hand, and Loren heard a clink of coin.

“What is that?” hissed Loren. She looked up, frantically scanning about for Gregor or one of his guards. But she could not see the big man, and none of his guards gave her a second glance.

“A purse,” said Annis. “The first in a long, fruitful career for the nine kingdoms’ next great thief.”

She thrust it out toward Loren with outstretched hands. Loren seized the purse and threw it back, harder than she meant. The bag slammed into Annis’ chest, making her wince. Perhaps that would be best, though. She must know this was no jest.

“Are you a fool?” said Loren. “I am your mother’s guest. What would any honorable person think of me if I stole from her? As for you, what daughter steals from their own mother?”

Annis’ nostrils flared, the way they had when she grew angry the night before. “And you took nothing from your parents when you ran away from home, did you?”

Loren balked, unable to think of a reply.

“I thought as much,” said Annis. “It’s a fine thief who calls another thief dishonorable. As for this, it is a tiny thing, one purse from a chest full of them. No one would even notice it had gone, least of all Mother. And how you think you will make your way upon the road without so much as a penny to your name—”

“Your mother is kind and generous to me, and to you as well,” said Loren. “What reason could you possibly have to do this?”

“Because,” said Annis, her eyes flashing. “I wanted to come with you. But now I think I may not wish to travel beside one so stupid.”

The words might have stung, but Loren’s mind leapt far away in an instant. She saw herself beneath the boughs of the Birchwood, Xain standing before her. I want you to take me with you, Loren had said.

That is what I feared, said Xain. No. I will not.

How could she have been so foolish? She had been as foolish as Annis in that moment, too young by half, asking a favor she could not have understood.

But no. There was a difference.

“My parents had turned my life to something scarcely worth living,” said Loren. “Your mother tends to your every need, and has raised you as no fool besides. We are nothing alike.”

“We are more alike than you know,” hissed Annis. “If I do not—”

A shout cut her off. Both their heads snapped toward the sound. Near the front of the caravan, Loren saw a bustle of sudden activity.

“What is that?” she murmured.

“An alarm,” said Annis. “They’ve spotted someone on the road.”

They leapt to their feet and ran. It took them only a moment to reach the front of the caravan where Damaris stood. Gregor loomed beside her, a step ahead and halfway in front, using his body to block her from the road ahead.

“Mother, what is it?” cried Annis. Struck by a thought, Loren scanned her hands for the purse of coins, but it had vanished.

“Riders,” said Damaris. “Many of them, and led by constables.”

Loren quailed. “Are they…?” She could not finish.

“The same from yesterday? We do not yet know,” said Damaris. “One of our outriders spotted them. But we should not take any chances. Loren, come with me. Quickly.”

Damaris hurried down the line of caravans. “You remember the compartment set in the floor of the wagons?” she said.

“Yes,” panted Loren, breathless not from running, but from fear. “I can hide there.”

“Not the same one,” said Damaris. “Here.”

She stopped at the fourth wagon in the line, throwing back the canvas flap that covered the back. Loren vaulted into the back and squinted as her eyes adjusted to the darkness.

Now that she knew what she looked for, she spotted the edges of the panel easily. Her fingers found the crack, and she heaved it upward. This compartment held no brown cloth packages, leaving her plenty of extra room to lay down. Grateful, she slid into the floor and pulled the panel back over herself.

It took forever before she heard the thunder of hoofbeats down the road. They grew louder and louder, pulling to a stop nearby.

“Who approaches?” said Gregor, his booming voice vibrating the wooden panels beneath Loren.

“The King’s men, about his business,” said a voice. Loren did not recognize it as either Corin or Bern. They might still be here, she reminded herself.

“The road seems fairly thick with constables,” came Damaris’ clear voice. “Two visited us only yesterday.”

“The same who sent us,” came the new voice. “They seek a man and a girl, and said they saw the girl very near your caravan.”

“They told us the same,” said Damaris. “But we told them we had seen nothing.”

“I have heard the tale,” said the man. “But when they told me, I questioned them closely. For many merchants upon the road may carry goods that give the King great displeasure. To hide them, such merchants might hide panels and holes within their very wagons. I asked Corin if he had searched for any such concealment, and he said he had not. He sent me to see if such might be found.”

Loren’s throat went bone dry. There was a long silence outside the wagon.

The man spoke again at last. “What say you, my lady? Must my men break your wagons apart plank by plank?”

Damaris hesitated only a moment before answering. “There is no need. The girl hides within. Come, and I will take you to her.”

CONTINUED IN EPISODE THREE

Get it for FREE here:

GarrettBRobinson.com/nb-3

In this hour, I begin editing the latest episode of Nightblade in preparation for release tomorrow! Tune in to see how I edit my books for publication, what I look for and how my process works. Also YOU CAN STILL VOTE FOR HOW THE NEXT EPISODE WILL BEGIN. Help shape the nine kingdoms and Loren’s story within them.

Welcome back to VlogaNovel, where I live-write a book and self-publish it, all on streaming web video! You can watch and see how to write a book, how to format a book for publishing, and get all kinds of behind-the-scenes details on Nightblade, my serialized heroic fantasy series, which you can’t find anywhere else!

PRE-ORDER THIS BOOK: http://garrettbrobinson.com/nb-2

GET THE FIRST BOOK IN THE SERIES: http://garrettbrobinson.com/nb-1

Well, after last hour’s 25-minute debacle I’m returning to the editing chair with a passion and a purpose. We’ll be editing Nightblade: Episode Two and getting it ready for tomorrow’s big release.

Welcome back to VlogaNovel, where I live-write a book and self-publish it, all on streaming web video! You can watch and see how to write a book, how to format a book for publishing, and get all kinds of behind-the-scenes details on Nightblade, my serialized heroic fantasy series, which you can’t find anywhere else!

PRE-ORDER THIS BOOK: http://garrettbrobinson.com/nb-2

GET THE FIRST BOOK IN THE SERIES: http://garrettbrobinson.com/nb-1

Another hour of editing! Getting this episode done and ready to publish in time for tomorrow’s release date. Tune in to see the creation process live.

Welcome back to VlogaNovel, where I live-write a book and self-publish it, all on streaming web video! You can watch and see how to write a book, how to format a book for publishing, and get all kinds of behind-the-scenes details on Nightblade, my serialized heroic fantasy series, which you can’t find anywhere else!

PRE-ORDER THIS BOOK: http://garrettbrobinson.com/nb-2

GET THE FIRST BOOK IN THE SERIES: http://garrettbrobinson.com/nb-1

The last editing hour. After this we export and publish the book across all platforms, including pre-order customers! Nightblade: Episode Two is almost done!

Welcome back to VlogaNovel, where I live-write a book and self-publish it, all on streaming web video! You can watch and see how to write a book, how to format a book for publishing, and get all kinds of behind-the-scenes details on Nightblade, my serialized heroic fantasy series, which you can’t find anywhere else!

PRE-ORDER THIS BOOK: http://garrettbrobinson.com/nb-2

GET THE FIRST BOOK IN THE SERIES: http://garrettbrobinson.com/nb-1

This is the first hour of the audiobook recording for Nightblade: Episode Two. Tune in to hear the whole book read front to back! A great way to experience the book for free if you can’t shell out a buck right now.

(But hey! Did you know you can get Episode Two for free? All you have to do is read Episode One, which is free already, and then leave a review! I’ll send you Episode Two via email! Go to http://garrettbrobinson.com/free-nightblade for details!)

Welcome back to VlogaNovel, where I live-write a book and self-publish it, all on streaming web video! You can watch and see how to write a book, how to format a book for publishing, and get all kinds of behind-the-scenes details on Nightblade, my serialized heroic fantasy series, which you can’t find anywhere else!

PRE-ORDER THIS BOOK: http://garrettbrobinson.com/nb-2

GET THE FIRST BOOK IN THE SERIES: http://garrettbrobinson.com/nb-1

This is the second hour of the audiobook recording for Nightblade: Episode Two. Tune in to hear the whole book read front to back! A great way to experience the book for free if you can’t shell out a buck right now.

(But hey! Did you know you can get Episode Two for free? All you have to do is read Episode One, which is free already, and then leave a review! I’ll send you Episode Two via email! Go to http://garrettbrobinson.com/free-nightblade for details!)

Welcome back to VlogaNovel, where I live-write a book and self-publish it, all on streaming web video! You can watch and see how to write a book, how to format a book for publishing, and get all kinds of behind-the-scenes details on Nightblade, my serialized heroic fantasy series, which you can’t find anywhere else!

PRE-ORDER THIS BOOK: http://garrettbrobinson.com/nb-2

GET THE FIRST BOOK IN THE SERIES FREE: http://garrettbrobinson.com/nb-1

This is the third hour of the audiobook recording for Nightblade: Episode Two. Tune in to hear the whole book read front to back! A great way to experience the book for free if you can’t shell out a buck right now.

(But hey! Did you know you can get Episode Two for free? All you have to do is read Episode One, which is free already, and then leave a review! I’ll send you Episode Two via email! Go to http://garrettbrobinson.com/free-nightblade for details!)

Welcome back to VlogaNovel, where I live-write a book and self-publish it, all on streaming web video! You can watch and see how to write a book, how to format a book for publishing, and get all kinds of behind-the-scenes details on Nightblade, my serialized heroic fantasy series, which you can’t find anywhere else!

PRE-ORDER THIS BOOK: http://garrettbrobinson.com/nb-2

GET THE FIRST BOOK IN THE SERIES FREE: http://garrettbrobinson.com/nb-1