What better way to start off a Friday morning in November – when the air has finally begun to crisp, Stranger Things fans wallow in the throes of post-season-2 withdrawals, novelists voluntarily submit to the tear-inducing trials of a month long writing marathon, and the sudden arrival of Christmas music sparks equal and opposite reactions of joy and consternation – than with a story?
(Side note: listening to Christmas music makes me happy any time of the year. Yes, I am one of those people.)
So here you have it my friends, a bonus snippet clipped from the world of the Songkeeper Chronicles, painstakingly saved, and revealed here for the first time … ever … in the history of the world … of Leira, that is …
Just for you.
Why? Because the following four things are true:
1) It’s been far too long since we’ve been able to enjoy a scene with dear old Amos. Okay, so it’s been the same amount of time since we’ve gotten to enjoy a scene with Birdie or Ky, but according to his fans – um, you guys – the ending to Book Two left some questions about Amos’s fate, and you feel you’ve been hanging in limbo for too long.
Bad news: still in limbo. Good news: here’s a fun bonus short! Enjoy!
2) Exciting things are coming soon in the world of the Songkeeper Chronicles. (Ahem … book three … and other smaller exciting things that I can’t reveal to you now, but of course I’m hinting at them because
I’m a devious author who enjoys tormenting readers I hope to whet your appetite!)
3) This little tale has been gathering dust on the draft board since last year’s #exploreleira blog tour celebrating Songkeeper’s one year book birthday. I planned to share it then as an extra bit of rough story material and it’s been hanging in limbo ever since … somewhat like the aforementioned fans longing for Book Three.
4) The paperback version of Songkeeper is currently on sale on Amazon for only $5.15! This is true in the moment that I am writing these words, but I have no idea how long the sale will last, so if you’ve been waiting to purchase the book, or want to introduce a friend to the story, now’s your chance!
5) And you readers are the best … (I know, I know, I said four things. I’m such a rebel.)
When Amos McElhenny first took to the road as a traveling peddler, he did so with little more than an oversized knapsack and tramped his way from town to town, peddling the goods that he carried on his back. From the southern tip to the northernmost mountains, he marched, establishing a route and trade partners, and sampling the brew in every inn he passed.
It was pure happenstance that led him to the donkey, Balaam, and to his friend, Brog. A game of Fools Dice after one too many mugs of brew with a fellow traveling peddler, a reckless wager with a priceless bottle of Vrimgor sap (purchased on the edge of the Vituain Desert), and he walked away with the peddler’s pack of wares, packsaddle, and a large gray donkey to boot.
“Take ’im and good riddance.” The peddler lifted his bleary gaze from his mug and swept an unsteady hand toward the donkey, just visible through the swinging doors of the Whistlin’ Waterfly Tavern. “Laziest beast I ever met.”
Lazy the overgrown beast might be, but when it came to trekking across the whole of Leira carting wares to sell, four hooves had less chance of wearing out than Amos’s own two feet. He was a mite partial to them, not to mention his boots. Both had lasted him a good long while, and if he truly meant to make a go of this peddling business, they would have to last a good while more. With a satisfied sigh—disguised as a cough—he rose and straightened his belt. “Don’t suppose ye’d want t’ play one more round, now would—”
“A’right, a’right!” Amos dodged the peddler’s wild swing. The man’s fist struck the dice and sent them skipping across the earthen floor. That earned both of them a dirty look from the fair young maid behind the counter, which was a shame because Amos had been trying to catch her smile since he had downed his second mug, much earlier in the evening. He had given up after her scowl had grown more and more pronounced with each consecutive mug. “I’m goin’. I’m goin’. Wheesht, man, ’tis not as if ye owned the place …”
He palmed the vial of Vrimgor sap from the table—his stake in the game, and a reckless one at that, since Vrimgor sap was woefully expensive and accessible only to those brave and foolish enough, or those with friends brave and foolish enough, to attempt crossing the wild expanses of the Vituain Desert—and slipped it into his overcoat pocket. With a grunt, he swept his heavy knapsack out from beneath the table, jostling a neighboring table and earning a stern stare from the Saari trio seated there. He mumbled an apology. Taverns were meant to be pleasant places, weren’t they? Instead, he found himself standing in a room full of guarded expressions and terse, huddled conversations. Bilgewater. Seemed there was no escaping the smog of fear and despair that had descended upon the world in the years since resistance died at the massacre of Drengreth, and hope along with it.
Mouth suddenly gone dry, he swallowed. He had thought to bury such thoughts when he left the caverns of Kerby for the last time, thought to escape it all in the simple life of a peddler, beholden to no man, free to wander whither he willed. If even tiny Hardale had felt the effects … maybe there was no escaping it.
But By Turning, he would do his best.
“Hoi, Amos.” The peddler’s voice recalled him part way through the swinging door. “‘is name’s Balaam.” Bloodshot eyes lifted over the rim of a newly filled mug. The pretty maid stood by his elbow, a jug in her hand. “Don’t you forget it now, you hear? Balaam.”
Amos cast a pitying grin toward the young woman and earned a disapproving glare in return. Apparently his welcome had run out. Again. He hasted toward the door. “Sure, Brog, sure.”
The doors swung shut behind him, and he paused on the stoop to consider his new prize. The donkey lifted his head from a hay bag and stared back, jaw rolling as he chewed. Fool’s Dice was aught but a fair game. A man knew that before he set hand to dice and began to play. The game thrived upon cheating luck. Sometimes you won, sometimes you lost. It was just the way of it. Still … it didn’t set right with him, taking everything from a fellow peddler.
He had been many things in his life—many that he wasn’t proud of—but he had never been a common thief. An uncommon one, sure, guided by principles on who he would steal from and when. Khelari, mainly, anytime and any place. Those who supported them, whenever and wherever it would hurt the most. Rich folk who capitalized on the suffering of others, well, then he liked to time it to make them look the most like fools. But no, he had never been common enough to steal just for the sake of gain, and certainly not from one of his own.
Cursing, he undid the straps binding Brog’s packs in place, let them slip to the ground and then shunted them over to the stoop. He was none too careful about it and that assuaged his guilty conscience—because if Amos McElhenny wasn’t a common thief, he also wasn’t a softhearted sap—and then settled his own knapsack in place on the donkey’s back and yanked the lead free. The donkey let out a mournful bray.
“None o’ that now. ‘Tis time t’ move. C’mon.” He tugged the rope. Fool beast didn’t move. “Ye heard me, ye flyswoggled, addle-pated lump o’ charbottle! Let’s move.” Another tug. This time, the beast set his head so hard, Amos nearly jerked his shoulder out of socket. “C’mon. C’mon. C’mon!” Breathing hard, he wheeled around, coming nose to snout with the donkey, and stared into the dark wells of the beast’s eyes.
No malice in those eyes. Just boredom … and was that a hint of laughter he detected in the beast’s quivering muzzle? He swiped his mouth with the back of his hand and set his teeth. For the first time all evening, he began to wonder if he’d been had.
“Will ye no move on, ye seaswoggled beastie?”
“Balaam.” Brog’s voice cut across his welling wrath. The peddler had an arm slung across one of the swinging doors and was trying—and failing—to hide a grin behind the mug in his hand. His eyes looked considerably less bleary and unfocused than before. “You got to call ‘im Balaam. Talk nice to ‘im too. ‘e likes pleasant talk.”
Fine. “Balaam.” Amos dragged his eyes back to the donkey. “Will ye no move on?” Then gritted out between his teeth, “Please.” Still chewing, the donkey let out a long breath and then shuffled forward, treading on Amos’s foot. The beast’s shoulder knocked against him. Hard. Glass crunched and a damp spot slicked the pocket of his overcoat.
Hastily, Amos tore off the coat and cast it on the ground. Shards of glass clinked in the pocket. He had been a blame fool not to stow the priceless, dangerous vial more carefully. Now there was a fortune gone, and his overcoat ruined, and—boggswoggle—he’d been fortunate indeed that the glass hadn’t cut him, for one drop of such a concentrated form of that poison in his blood would have left him a dead man.
He rounded on the witless beast. “What was that, ye dawdling great ormahound? Have ye no got eyes in yer head?”
The donkey just blinked at him.
“Remember, Amos,” Brogg called from the doorway. “Pleasant talk!”
“I’ll give ye blatherin’ pleasant talk …” Clenching his teeth on his anger and the pain, Amos snatched up the overcoat and flung it over the donkey’s back. The fool beast twisted his head around to sniff at the damp stain on the pocket. “None o’ that now!” Already the beast had cost him a boggswoggling amount of trouble and coin. No way he would let him die that easily. “No, laddie, ye’re goin’ t’ have t’ work a long time yet.”
Muttering to himself, he swung the lead over his shoulder and marched off into the night. He had ever been a firm believer in the power of confidence, particularly when a man felt a fool. Surprisingly, the donkey toddled after him without a fight.
“So long, Amos!” Brog stepped out onto the tavern stoop, seeming suddenly strangely alert, and waved a cheery farewell with the maid smirking by his side. “Enjoy the stubborn beast! Be sure and stop by the Waterfly to see us next time you’re in town.”
Fool’s Dice, indeed.
Your Turn! Here’s a couple question prompts to start the conversation:
- Are you still wallowing in despair after finishing Stranger Things?
- Have you started listening to Christmas music yet?
- Who would you rather play in a games of Fool’s Dice, Amos or Brog?
- And Trivia Question: Any guesses as to where the donkey Balaam gets his name?
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Curious to find out more about Amos, Brog, and Balaam? Check out the links below to purchase the books: