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Circles and Stones (update 5, excerpt)

I am nearing the completion of the third book, Circles and Stones, in my ongoing Sanyel series and would like to offer readers another excerpt before finishing up and beginning the editing process. The book has taken longer than expected to finish due to a variety of reasons, but I am pleased with the result. As with my previous excerpts, this one is still in draft form and subject to changes. Here is the setup to the scene: Teen shaman Sanyel, her friend Izzy, the priest Borsar, and rebel leader Trayvan, have retrieved Borsar’s son from a cult, along with two other boys. An escape plan foiled by unforeseen circumstances forces them to take temporary shelter in an old tower, one very few have access to, but which has previously served as a hiding place for the group. Knowing they cannot safely leave before nightfall, they decide to catch some sleep in the upper level of the tower, but within an hour a clanging noise from far below alerts them to an intruder. stirka—Izzy's sword “Wake up!” I whispered the words to each of the others as I gently shook them, while noting that Izzy was already up and gazing down the staircase, trying to pinpoint the sound. She had her stirka unsheathed, and after I roused everyone and added an admonition to keep still and silent, I located my bow and arrows and joined Izzy by the stairwell. “See anything?” “No, but I hear someone, or something, moving down there in the shadows.” “Could the soldiers have found the door under the house stairs?” I posed. “Doesn’t sound like a large group, maybe just one person, or an animal.” I peered into the murkiness at the bottom of the tower steps and was startled when a woman’s voice hailed us from the darkness. “Greetings to those watching from the top of the staircase. Do you mind if I come up?” After a slight pause, she added, “I am alone.” Disconcerted by the unexpected appearance of a strange woman in our secret hideaway, we did not respond at once, which caused the woman to probe again. “I assure you I am harmless. I carry no weapon.” Izzy and I looked at each other and the big girl shrugged. “Might as well see what she wants. It doesn’t sound like anyone else is down there.” “Identify yourself,” I called down. “I am Hayda. You have nothing to fear from me. I only wish to talk. I believe I can be of assistance to you.” Shouting back and forth, up and down the stairs, was not an ideal way to converse, so I finally said, “Come up.” Her offer of assistance made me curious. Who was she and what did she know about us? Moreover, how did she get into the tower? We heard the creak of the metal steps as the woman made her way up to us. Borsar and Trayvan demanded to know what was happening, so Izzy informed them. We watched and waited until the top of a head showed in the dim light. The gray hair surprised, as I had not expected an older woman. Hayda made her way in a deliberate fashion, never looking up, concentrating on the step before her. Those her age understand the necessity of paying attention to what is in front of you. Agility and speed are natural to the young, but an aging body could incur a muscle strain with an overly strenuous move. Even an innocuous one made a thousand times can betray you. That is not to say the woman showed any physical impediments. She moved with surety, but without the rash enthusiasm of youth. When about ten steps below us, she at last looked up. A broad smile brought sizable creases to the corners of her mouth, and those added to the natural age lines on her face, a face made bright from her grin and her merry eyes. I judged her to be in her sixties. Her straight, gray hair hung down to sturdy shoulders. She appeared adequately fed, as I did not detect the starvation signs noticed in the general population. She wore a white robe that extended to just below her knees and wore leather sandals on her feet, ubiquitous footwear suited to the climate. Hayda continued up the final steps without a word or a return look at us, and we made room as she exited the stairway onto the stone turret landing. The woman caught her breath for a moment and then glanced around at each of us. She granted a warm smile to all before turning her attention to me. “At last we meet!” she said with enthusiasm. “I have looked forward to it.” All the while, I had been trying to decipher who this woman was, why she was here, how she had gotten inside the tower, and how she knew about us. I was failing miserably. “I’m sure you have a lot of questions,” she stated. “Let me try to clear everything up for you. As I said, I am Hayda. I have visited this tower for many years, using a secret entrance, but not the one beneath the house stairs. There is a third portal into this tower, one it seems no one knows about but me.” A third entry to the tower? Could this be through the tunnel rumored to run underground, the original tower entrance, long thought abandoned? “I will show you the entrance in a moment, if you wish to see it,” Hayda went on, “but first I’d like to fill you in a bit about myself.” As she spoke, I noticed an emblem stitched in forest green to her robe above her left breast. Startled by the familiar symbol, I asked, “You are Alacran?” “Uh … yes,” she replied, astonished. “How do you know this?” “The design on your robe. I have seen it before. You are one of those who once knew how to view the past and future?” Hayda gave me an enigmatic smile. “Yes … but how do you know of this?” “Our group ran across a family a short time ago. A young woman among them told us they were Alacran. She had that symbol tattooed on her wrist. Hold on a second.” I reached beneath my robe into a pocket of my tunic and retrieved the parchment with the words Trayvan had copied from the stone. I handed the paper to Hayda and said, “The woman tried to read this for me but could not decipher all the words. Can you?” “What is this from?” Hayda asked with interest as she examined the words. “We found a stone that had these symbols carved into it.” Hayda mouthed the words to herself. She sighed and then said, “I have heard about this. It is an unhappy tale from a time long past, one I’m sure many of my people experienced. It says, ‘Virus spreading. All infected. Our knowledge will die with us. We are the Alacran. Bless our circles and stones.’” Hayda stopped reading and informed us that was it, the note’s entirety. I felt disappointed, as I had expected something of more value to my current mission. The depressing words were the lamentations of a people who saw approaching doom. They engraved that despair on a stone they expected no one to see, which made it all the more poignant. Sad, yes, and I empathized with their anguish, but that finality never came. People survived, including Alacran. “Well, I guess they expected the end of the world,” said Izzy. “We have heard about that virus, that everyone at the time thought it was the end of human life. I’m curious though, about those last words. What does ‘Bless our circles and stones’ mean?” “It was a common blessing invoked by my people,” explained Hayda. “Our viewings took place within great grass circles with a large black tuning stone placed at its edge.” Izzy shot me a glance and asked, “Is she talking about what I think she is?” “It sounds like it!” I confirmed with a growing excitement. Grass circles with a stone at their edge! My good friends the Terons had not known who made the large grass circle in the forest where they had established their camp after escaping Cruxun slavery years ago. They had not known the purpose of that patch of ground where nothing but short grass grew. The Teron boy, Nay-tan, had demonstrated to me the repelling properties of the black stone on its edge, knowledge that had assisted me in future navigation and in an ensuing skirmish against Cruxun soldiers. I had puzzled over the origin and intent of the circle and stone, even more so after discovering an identical formation near Golt, the Cruxun city. “You know about our viewing circles?” asked a surprised Hayda. “How?” “I have come across two of them in the past year,” I replied, “but didn’t know their purpose.” Hayda showed great interest and amazement that these other circles existed. “I had no idea more of them had survived. My people have utilized one near Grell since ancient times.” As she said that, a brief flicker of sadness washed over the woman’s face and she added, “I am the last of my clan still living in this area, as most have left or died. Times have been hard. We were a faction of those who broke from the main group after the virus accusations split us apart. My group vowed to continue our sacred practices and not to give in to the pressure and hysteria to abandon our ways.” “Others tried doing the same, the best they could,” I told her. “The young Alacran woman we met told us her ancestors had remained with the main group that outlawed the practice. The women had tried to keep their symbol code alive, but they had lost the ability to view time, as disuse caused the proper method to fade from memory over the years.” Hayda shook her head. “That’s a shame. It was our identity. The men had no such gifts, so ours granted us tremendous pride and gave us a degree of nobility and respect we otherwise would not have had.” “I’d like to discuss more about time viewing with you at a later time, if possible,” I said, “but for now I have some things I’d like you to address. You said you might be able to assist us. How do you know of us and why would you want to help us?” If you enjoyed this latest excerpt of Circles and Stones, be sure to check out the previous four posted in this blog. For those who enjoy action and adventure with a touch of fantasy, I invite you to explore the exciting world of Sanyel and her friends in the previous books of the series, Sanyel and Disrupter. Sanyel, the first book in the series, is available as an e-book FREE at various book retailers. Sanyel series books are also available in paperback.

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