Chapter One
Visitors at the Western Slope

      It was the sixteenth autumn of Oreus’s life, one that seemed to hold no more promise of life-improving opportunities than his previous
fifteen. Their crew had been lost at sea for over a month, and food had run thin. They were all starting to snap at each other, except for Captain
Lanu, who stayed below in his private quarters most of the time.
      Oreus decided to take a break from fishing and checking the nets, which came up empty again. He stretched across a large pile of
anchoring rope at the bow of The Star Gazer and closed his eyes. The sun cast its warm glow across his sharp jaw line. He felt relaxed, a
moment hard to come by. Being the youngest member of the crew made him a regular target for grunt work. And because of the extra work, he
treasured rest more than anything.
      A cold waft of air breezed across his tanned skin as the sun faded behind a patch of clouds. Thoughts of a fresh meal raced across his mind.
The sun reappeared and warmed his bones as he imagined sinking his teeth into a salty quarter pound of well cooked steak. He licked his lips
and pretended to swallow a bite, but was interrupted by a sudden lurch. The image was followed by a stinging kick to his right leg. He opened
his eyes to see a large shadow blocking out his warm sunlight.
      “Get up, boy. We have work ter do. Ya can’t sleep yer entire life away. Yer missin’ the view.” It was Boris, the biggest man ever to set
foot aboard the ship. Captain Lanu brought him along for his strength and commanding presence to intimidate any possible attackers. One look
made any opposition think twice about its strategy. A coarse, black and gray peppered beard covered most of his face and a string of kat claws
dangled from his neck. His thick coat was made of woven wool, and his size thirty black boots could easily crush Oreus’s skull if he didn’t start
to move.
      Oreus jumped to his feet to show his obedience and stretched his wiry, muscular limbs. He considered himself lucky to be a part of Lanu’s
crew. Only eight had been allowed on the ship by Queen’s decree, but the Captain got to choose who he wanted to bring. Being number eight
gave him some confidence the world could change for him if he worked hard and found the right people to help him. The Captain, he believed,
was one of those people, showing faith in him from the moment he met him. However Oreus also realized the main reason he was brought
aboard was because he came cheap. Plus, it didn’t hurt he was also an excellent shot with a bow, which he demonstrated to the Captain up front
by hitting a shoe sitting on a fencepost two hundred feet away.
      “Grab that rope, lad, and throw it down.” yelled Roy Stoffer, a whiny third-year sailor with a sunburned complexion and scraggly blond
hair. Roy’s red top and white pants were finally starting to show stains and signs of wear as he staggered around the deck half-drunk. “We don’t
have all day. The sun’s settin’ and there’s land to be seen.”
      Oreus didn’t mind him, as long as could stay out of his way. Roy was always looking for the upper hand to make himself stand out among
the crew. The captain, however, was wise to his bids for attention and ignored them. In fact, he thought the captain was beginning to grow weary
of Roy’s daily charades. But Roy never seemed to catch on and began to look more like a fool the harder he tried.
      Could it be? Oreus thought, retracing Roy’s words in his mind.  “Land?” he repeated, which elicited a nod from Roy. They hadn’t set foot
on solid ground for over thirty days. He felt a new wave of renewed energy course through his blood as he lifted the coiled anchoring rope on
which he’d been sleeping and dragged it to the front of the ship. As he peered over the edge, a wondrous sight made his heart pound faster.
An expanse of lush land extended across the horizon. Had he been loafing so long that he’d missed coming upon this? It was a lot of land to
miss. When Oreus cocked his head to look toward the stern, he saw why it had eluded him. A thick veil of mist hovered away from the
shoreline, as if protecting something precious.
      Shouts snapped him back to the bow, prompting him to look below. Small, colorful figures were approaching the ship. Red and metallic
shades adorned the figures, which indicated they were armed. Their suits, swords and spearheads gleamed in the brightness of the day. One
white haired male stepped to the front and raised an open hand above his head. The bearded man waved his hand in a circular motion before
letting it drop to his side. He was the only one without armor, adorned with a deep green robe, which was the same color as Oreus’s eyes. A
gold crown of leaves encircled the old man’s head, and a black belt cinched his robe at his waist.
      “Did ye hear what I said, lad?” Roy called. “Throw down the rope and quit gawkin’! There’s plenty of time for that later.”
      “On it, Roy,” Oreus said before Roy muttered his next sentence, which had something to do with a foot being lodged in his rear. The rope
was bulky and heavy. Oreus cried as he tossed it over the side of the ship. It unraveled as the end fell to the sand with a thud. Two figures
wearing red picked it up and tied it to a broken and charred tree trunk limb that was sticking out of the sand. Oreus released the anchors and
dropped a ring ladder next before Roy or one of the other crewmembers had a chance to remind him of it. It fell short of the white sand by a few
feet.
      “Out of the way, boy,” Crag huffed, a crotchety short buzzard of a man who was second in command. He grabbed hold of the top ring of
the ladder and disappeared over the side.
      A tapping noise echoed behind Oreus, making him turn. Captain Lanu stepped forward and leaned over the side to watch with his steely
grays while Crag descended downward, ring by ring. The old man in the green robe and five others armed with long staffs moved forward from
the clustered group to meet Crag before he touched ground.
      “Onnaway,” said the man in green as he moved his hand in a clockwise circular motion for a second time. Oreus thought him to be rather
frail-looking, with a pale complexion. And he could now see that his short beard parted in two at the base. The armed men surrounding him had
dark, fine hair and perfectly toned skin. Their eyes were focused on him, and they held their intricate staves upright with tight grips, ready for
anything. The staves contained metal ends and a ring of spikes on each side of a set of three consecutive handles, spaced almost a foot apart at
the center.
      Crag turned to look at them after he jumped down the last few feet. His crooked teeth always looked more like a snarl to Oreus than a
smile, and his ragged, curly hair framed his face in a manner that made it appear more round than it was. Crag’s short stature made the new
people seem all the more intimidating when he stood before them. Undeterred by the fact they were armed, Crag straightened his cuffs and said
to the green robed man, “Hello,” with his crooked smile.
      “Ah,” the man answered with a half-smile. “It is true then. You are the ones.”
      “Pardon?” Crag asked, not understanding.
The man smiled and excused himself as he went back to talk with one of his men. The guard dashed off the moment he received the instructions,
and then the green robed man returned to Crag. “You speak the language of the Elders. Not many of our people do, as it is a rare language and
is mostly used by members of the Royal House.”
      Crag’s smile widened. “By the stars! Amazing. You have royalty, then? Wonderful. Since you speak it openly, and wear a leaf crown, you
must be one of their leaders, I suspect.” He bowed to show respect. “We bring good tidings. We have our own royalty as well, and our queen
sends her warmest greetings to you and your people.” He did yet another bow, this one lower, but his eyes never left the armed guards.
The green-robed figure straightened his robes and replied, “One does not have to be of royal blood to be a member of the Royal Court. I am
Baron Tauron Milet of the Western House of Marshant Territory. You have set foot within my boundaries and therefore, I am responsible for all
you say and do. You are welcome to stay here as long as you carry no weapons.”
      Crag’s smile vanished as he looked once again at the polished warriors surrounding the baron.
“We are mere voyagers, Baron. Here to meet new cultures and expand our knowledge beyond the vastness of the seas. We’re grateful for your
generosity and wish to take you up on your offer. My captain is eager to exchange ideas and information with you, and perhaps to get a fresh
meal, if possible. We’ve been at sea for too long and need rest and replenishments.” Crag dipped his chin once again to show his appreciation
and respect. Water brushed the back of his heels. He jumped forward from the shock of the cold seawater seeping into his expensive suede
boots. The baron jumped back a step himself when Crag hopped forward.
      “The tide’s starting to come in,” the baron said, looking past him. “We need to move indoors soon, where you will receive what you seek.
Don’t tarry, the murka flies will be out at dark, looking for new skin to nest their eggs in. They are terrible in this part of the territory.” The baron’
s face twisted into a look of disgust. “Once the eggs are in, they’re difficult to dislodge if not removed within two sun settings.”
Crag’s mouth drew back in horror, which made Oreus quietly chuckle to himself. Crag rubbed the burgundy coat covering his arms and
shuddered. When he saw the baron smirking at his reaction, he straightened his black cravat and his posture. “Then we should be on our way,”
he said. “Let me get my crew together and we can be off.”
      “If you don’t mind me asking,” the baron said as he looked over Crag’s shoulder, “what is your name?”
      “Sorry I didn’t mention that, Baron.” He took his foot off the first ring of the golden ladder and turned back around. “Crag. My last name,
that is. My first name, and that which you may call me by, is Berringer.”
      The baron scratched the side of his face and looked above his head. “Crag, how does your ship float above the water? I’ve never seen a
ship glide like a bird before. Is it the golden sails that allow it to take to air?”
      Crag’s shoulders slumped, which made him appear more at ease. Oreus gauged that this civilization wasn’t as advanced as theirs. With that
thought in mind, he presumed these people wouldn’t be much of a threat to their safety. However, he did notice that the baron wasn’t ready to
trust them fully yet, and refused to call Crag by his first name. Perhaps, he thought, using only last names was their way of addressing one
another.
      “Blower engines, Baron,” Crag said as he pointed to the base of the ship. “They open there and allow our craft to leave the surface of the
water. We travel faster when using them.”
      “And what gives these engines enough power to support a vessel so large?”
      The conversation was beginning to make Crag twitch. He swatted at something in the air and rubbed his arms again. “How soon did you
say we needed to be inside? We wouldn’t want to interrupt any of your daily events you may need to attend to—”
      “Well, then,” said the baron, his eyebrows rising. Barons apparently were accustomed to getting an answer.  He waved Crag off as if he
were a fly, too.
      Crag bowed again, looked happy to have been dismissed and scurried up the rope ladder as fast as his legs would carry him. He bounced
from ring to ring, as excited as Oreus by the discovery.
Read the Teaser...
Excerpt from The Chimes of Yawrana  by Scot R. Stone