I am pleased to welcome husband and wife writing team, Carol and Tom Phipps to my blog today with their latest fantasy series Heart of the Staff! Here is a look at book Three:
Fuzz jerked awake to the sound of women’s voices, and at once a wave of white-hot fear surged through him. He could see their silhouettes in front of the doorway as they talked excitedly. He looked around wildly for a place to hide that he already knew did not exist.
“Right strange how we missed this passage before, Demonica.”
“Had to have been something to do with the light at the time. Shadows could do it, I’d think. The light’s different now.”
“Demonica!” thought Fuzz in utter horror. “This is far worse than I’d thought. At least the Heart is safe…for the moment.”
“You all keep quiet up here,” he scarcely whispered as he carefully rose to a stand. “unless you see things get out of hand when those women get in here, that is. If it looks
bad for me, you all get out of here as fast as you can. Go to the dragon caves, and stay there until you hear from me.”
One of the bats dropped onto his shoulder. “Fuzz, maybe it’s already bad for you,” he said, with a squeak like a fist full of marbles. “You look…contorted.”
“In what way Taflu?”
“Well, your face is flat, your legs aren’t right and you have on clothing.”
Fuzz felt his face, then looked at his feet. It was indeed as he was beginning to assume. He was no longer a bear. “My. These must have been what I was wearing when I came to find Gastro. Now that it’s all certain, it probably will be harder to get past the sorceresses,” he murmured. “Oh well. For good or ill, here goes.” He started for the pantry door.
“Just who the blazes are you?” said Demonica as she thrust wide her arms in the doorway, stopping Fuzz in his tracks.
“I beg your pardon, ma’am,” he said with a bow. “I thought these premises were abandoned. Had I any idea that they were indeed occupied by two lovely ladies, I’d never have come in uninvited. The place having so many bats gave me the idea that no one had lived here for some time.” He pointed back into the pantry.
Demonica carefully peered into the pantry to find that the cave was indeed full of bats. With a look of disgust, she raised her hands to scorch the pantry with wizard’s fire.
“Please, my lady!” said Fuzz in wide eyed alarm. “It might be rash. I see that you’re gifted with magic, but there’s a right sizable lot of lamp oil stored in there.”
“Take a look, Spitemorta!” barked Demonica.
Spitemorta looked resentful, but whisked past for a look. She returned at once. “He has it right. There are even barrels of the stuff in there.”
“Bats. Lot’s of those.”
Demonica gave Fuzz slit-eyed look and motioned him out of the pantry. Much relieved to have saved his pets, he did so willingly.
“Now,” she said, showing him to a seat at the table. “Who are you?”
“No one of consequence, ma’am. I’m a woodsman. My name is Thorn, Thorn Bushman. My cabin burnt to the ground last week, and since I’d come across this den when I passed through here not long ago, reckoning it to be abandoned, I thought of it at once, after the fire, don’t you know. So, here I am. That’s all. So now that I see how it all is, I’ll just offer you my apologies and go on my way, then…”
“Your fine gentlemen’s hunting attire is quite out of fashion, Mr. Bushman. It lacks codpiece and doublet,” said Demonica with a frosty hiss, as she traded looks with Spitemorta. “Now, who are you…really?”
Fuzz stood speechless.
“Are you deaf?” she shouted. “I just asked you who you really are!”
“But my lady, I’ve told you. I’m Thorn Bushman.”
“Thorn Bushman,” snorted Spitemorta, as Demonica studied his face. “What sort of name is that? Where are you from?”
Fuzz’s mind raced. Dare he admit being from Niarg? Dare he say he wasn’t? “I grew up in Niarg, but I left there over twenty years ago and haven’t been back since.”
“He sounds like he actually could have been from Niarg, ‘way back,” said Spitemorta.
“As if he’s been gone from there a good a long time…”
“All right, Thorn,” said Demonica almost kindly. “Tell us again why you were nosing around in this cave. What were you looking for?”
“I wasn’t ‘nosing around,’ as you put it, my lady, and I wasn’t looking for anything, except for a place out of the weather until I could rebuild my cabin, which as I said, burnt down last week. With winter on its way, I figured that I could hole up in this cave and be right snug until spring. But now that I see…”
“Rustics can’t afford clothes like those, Mr. Bushman, and no one of substance would choose to dress so out of fashion,” said Demonica, “and there is one minor detail that makes your garments be no consequence at all.”
“What detail might that be, my lady?” said Fuzz.
“You’re a right handsome man, Thorn,” said Demonica, studying him minutely as she slowly circled him where he stood, “surely people have told you that?”
Fuzz stared at her.
“Nothing to say?” she said through an ugly smile. “Well, no matter. You are much too attractive not to have been told so. I think your beauty even surpasses that of my nearly departed husband.”
“So what might your husband be nearly dead from?” said Fuzz as he noticed how terribly dry his mouth had become.
“Demonica threw back her head in a seizure of laughter that stopped as suddenly as if it had been dropped and shattered upon the floor. “I’ll truly regret having to mar that beauty, Thorn. You don’t want that, now do you?”
Fuzz shook his head.
Demonica looked delighted. “Splendid. You know, it rained last night. Perhaps you can explain to me why one fresh set of unmistakable bear tracks leads to the door of this cave, while none leads away. You must’ve been here all night, since there are no tracks that you could possibly have made. Funny you didn’t see the bear come in. And Thorn, I have no patience at all, so I suggest you answer me now.”
Carol Marrs Phipps and Tom Phipps
Carol Marrs Phipps
Carol Marrs Phipps and Tom Phipps spent twenty years writing together and teaching on the Navajo, Apache, Hualapai and Paiute reservations in the Southwest before returning to their farm in Southern Illinois, where they now write epic fantasy full time. They have independently published seven books with more to come.
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