With The Security Guy out, it’s time to start my next book, Krol’s Goddess! I started this before TSG and abandoned it then. Now I’m not working anymore, I hope I’ll be able to finish it. I’ve read over the chapters I have and it’s not as bad as I remembered…
Anyway, to kick off the excerpts etc (which will be posted on Mondays on my facebook) here is the first chapter, technically a prologue:
Krol woke when something shook his arm. He startled, blinking in the dark. What was his brother doing here? It was the middle of the night. Krol struggled up, rubbing his eyes.
“Krol,” Surak whispered.
“What is it?” he whispered back. He copied Surak though there was no need to keep their voices down. There were few unmated males left in the tribe, and they slept far apart throughout the bachelor’s cave.
Surak reached under one arm, gently undoing his infant son’s hold on his pelt. Ryll was sleeping peacefully, though Surak struggled to get a good hold on him with one hand. The little one had grown so big in the last year, it was hard to believe.
“He is weaned,” Surak said.
“Is he?” Kroll replied in the pleased tone that adults used to talk to babies. “Well done, little one!” He tickled Ryll’s chest and pulled his tail out straight, watching it curl back up between his legs when he let it go.
“Mirr will tire of him soon,” Surak said.
“No.” They knew their Queen was temperamental. It had not been easy for them since Mirr had won the tribe. Krol did everything he could to help his brother cope with being Bonded to her. It wasn’t the first time they had sat in the dark and Krol had listened to Surak’s whispered fears.
“She is already restless,” Surak insisted.
“Then you will take over Ryll’s care. No matter.” Krol stroked a fingertip over the round cheek of his nephew.
“She will put him out!”
Krol’s eyes jumped to his brother’s face. It was a fear they both had, though Krol kept his hidden. Mirr had put out her sons before, but that was years ago. Her last two children before Ryll had been female, and she had kept them, so Krol had told his brother to hope. The only alternative was to watch his brother become one of the sad-eyed males who had given Mirr a son, and lost their child to the forest.
“She won’t,” Krol argued, as he had every other time.
“She will. She barely looks at him anymore, and gets so angry when he makes any noise at all!”
“Then you must convince her to keep him,” Krol insisted. “Are you her Bonded or not? She must listen to you if you beg.”
“I am not her favourite, you know that. Her eyes already look for another.” Surak looked convinced. “My time is over. I annoy her as much as the children do.”
Mirr had Bonded Surak almost two years ago. By her standards, it was already a long romance. He was her thirteenth Bonded male. Mirr’s harem was the largest they had ever heard of. The Queen could not be satisfied. She desired always the new, throwing away the old. They lingered near her untouched and unacknowledged, unable to break free. Sons interested her even less. She fed them for a few months before growing bored. Krol knew Surak had had to beg her to feed Ryll this long. Her favour for him had been used up.
Krol’s heart broke for his brother. Surak and Ryll were the only blood he had left, and now Surak was Bonded to a greedy, selfish Queen. He would have fled with Surak before Mirr had chosen him, but by the time they had learned her true nature, it was too late. If they had run, she would have chased them down and killed them for rejecting her. It had happened before.
“You must try,” Krol said. “For Ryll.”
“I have! She does not want to grow the tribe with her children. She only allows her daughters to stay because they will one day leave on their own. She has not a single son here. She wants only her Bonded. She knows she will not be able to take new males if the tribe is full of children. It would be too big.”
“Then what do you suggest?”
His brother pinned him with a stare, the handsome face that had ruined him now pale and scared. On the nights he had heard the worst of what Mirr was, Krol had been grateful to be big and lumbering. He had felt safe with his dark eyes and fur that made him utterly unremarkable. Surak had always been the finer, more graceful brother. His light eyes looked grey in the dark, ghostly, and it blew a chill down Krol’s back.
“You need to take Ryll.”
Krol almost laughed in relief. “Me? Certainly, if you think it would help. If it is as easy as keeping him here then-”
“No, not your cave. You need to leave the tribe.”
For a moment, Krol had no words. Surak was joking, surely. “Leave the tribe?”
“One day soon, even tomorrow, Ryll will be abandoned in the forest. I can do nothing to stop it. I cannot go with him, I will die without Mirr and he will still be alone. What other male will exile himself for my son? There is no one. It has to be you.”
“I… I cannot leave either. Without a tribe I will go mad, everyone knows that,” Krol said, stalling. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing.
“Then find another tribe.”
“And when they ask why an unBonded male has a baby?”
“I don’t know, Krol, but he will die if you do not do this! He will die crying and alone under a bush! If he is that lucky!” Surak hissed, tears coming to his eyes and his hands shaking. Ryll kicked in his sleep and they were silent for a moment as Surak soothed him, Krol watching. When Ryll settled again and all was still, Surak simply said “He is my son. Please, Krol.”
Krol still hesitated. “Mirr will kill me.”
“I will do everything I can to stop it. You will have more of a chance than Ryll will on his own.”
“You will never see me or Ryll again if we do this.”
Surak didn’t have an answer. He looked down at his son in his lap, holding his tiny hand. “I know. But I will have given him a chance, and I do not think I will be around to miss him for very long.”
“You think she will leave me alive?” he said, offering Krol a resigned smile. “She will know I am behind it.”
Krol still couldn’t comprehend what they were planning. Krol had never been anything other than obedient, as he had been raised to be. Even when he did not agree, he knew resistance was not worth it. But this? This plan was insane. “It is treason just to talk about this.”
“Mirr would be right to kill us both if she knew.”
“I know, but it is because of her that we must do this. I know you care about Ryll too.”
“Of course, but I care about my life too. I want more than a life alone in the wilds,” Krol said.
“So you will let him die?”
Krol looked again at Ryll’s innocent face, knowing Surak waited for his answer.
“This should not be my decision. I am not prepared for this,” he said, running his hands over his face. “You are asking me to abandon everything I know, to live in hiding.”
“I would do it myself if I could,” Surak said. “My life is nothing to me anyway. I am Bonded to a Queen who would kill our child. If it helps, consider Ryll an orphan. It won’t be long until that is true.”
“Do not speak that way! I will not give up everything for the child of a ghost! If you were not my brother I wouldn’t even consider…”
Surak watched Krol think. “Please, Krol. I am begging you.”
Krol growled in frustration. “If you beg, how can I refuse?” he finally conceded. He could see no way around it. Did he think he could live in this tribe and see Surak’s face after Ryll was put out? His brother was not lying when he said it would kill him.
“Thank you, Krol.” Surak wrapped him in a hug. “Goddess watch over you.”
He had never anticipated living through a moment like this, being called upon to make a decision this big. The grandest thing he had ever been warned might happen to him was being Bonded by a Queen. He and Surak had lived through their mother losing a challenge, killed by a Queen half her age. They had survived being exiled with their mother’s court, watching her Bonded males, their fathers, wither and die until her sons were the only survivors. They had thought Mirr’s interest in Surak had been a blessing then, a rescue. And now this.
“She will need to,” Krol replied, trying to remember all the dangers he knew were out in the wilds. Predators. Other tribes, other Queens. The weather. The valley tribes who lived in trees. He knew nothing of them, only stories to scare children into staying close to their caves.
Surak pulled away from him, lifting Ryll out of his lap and passing him into Krol’s arms. He settled as a soft weight, his fur so fine, his body so tiny compared to them. Krol looked at him as his for the first time. This boy’s life was in his hands. He was his responsibility, without Krol ever having asked for it, without Bonding or mating, without warning or time to prepare. Ryll was simply given to him, and he felt his heart strain as it tried to catch up.
He had just gained a son, and lost his brother.
Sneaking out of Mirr’s territory hadn’t been hard. He had taken Ryll in his arms, let the boy get a grip on his pelt, then slipped out into the night. Surak had stayed behind, and Krol still wondered if he had done the right thing. It felt as if his heart was tied to his brother’s and now the rope was pulling hard, and it hurt. As much as he loved Ryll, he had been with Surak his whole life. He didn’t know how to live without him.
He had known his only chance was a head start. He had known he only had until dawn. Shortly after, Mirr’s outraged roar had shaken the forest, and he had known he was out of time. He hid Ryll by digging underneath a log and piling rocks around him, then he had taken off in the other direction, hoping to cross Mirr’s path and lead her away.
Now, panic pumped through Krol. His pelt prickled with sweat, his fur lying flat in fear and submission. He couldn’t catch his breath. He had already run for so long. He had no idea if his plan had worked, if Ryll was still safe, or if he was about to die for nothing.
He faced Mirr now with nowhere left to run. The instant he turned his back to escape, she would be on him. Her gigantic body could block out the sun if she wanted. He and Surak had thought her beautiful once. Now her fierce size was terrifying. She hunched her shoulders, ready to attack, thick fangs hanging from her open mouth. Her tail flung up dead leaves and dirt as it lashed the ground at her feet.
“Where is he?” she growled, her hands tensing into fists and releasing.
Krol swallowed but he couldn’t answer. If he told her where Ryll was, they would both die, but he wasn’t brave enough to lie. He was terrified and exhausted, but a small part of him still found the energy to hate this Queen. She was a monster. She had ruined not only the lives of every male in her court, but also his life and Ryll’s, and all the young lives before him that she couldn’t be bothered to indulge.
Her males caught up behind her, watching anxiously. They knew it was their duty to punish and possibly execute him – but they also knew what he had done, what he was trying to do, and they did not want to hurt him for that. None of them had wanted to see Ryll put out. Those among them who had fathered sons wished someone had hidden them from Mirr just as Krol was hiding Ryll now.
Surak was not among them, and Krol could only hope he had not been killed.
Capturing that thought and holding it tight, Krol recognised that these were probably the last moments of his life. Mirr would tear him apart and Ryll would die alone anyway. Krol decided the least he could do was offer some resistance. He could show this Queen that not every male bowed before her, that she did not control him, that she was not loved by all no matter how much she wanted to be.
He set his feet, braced his shoulders, raised his lip and snarled. It was little more than a simulation of the act, strangled by fear, but Mirr’s eyes widened, enraged.
She roared, and charged.
So yeah! Krol is a single dad! He’s understandably very protective of Ryll when he meets Naomi three years after the above events. I am excited to do something a little different with him because not only is he the scarred-up type of hero, but unlike the other guys, Krol both hates and fears females after his experience of Mirr, who is basically the worst Queen that their society allows for. Krol and Naomi do not start out on a good footing, but Naomi is a very kind and optimistic heroine, sometimes to the point of self-delusion. The weather forces them together early on, so there’s all that trapped-in-a-cave goodness that I think we all like. I am trying to recreate some of the elements of Ruth’s Bonded in this book, trying to get back to what made the original so popular, though Krol is not a sweetie like Gron. They are alone for a long time, though they will join up with Ruth’s tribe eventually. The title comes from Krol trying to figure out what Naomi is.
I hope you like it anyway, and let me know what you think!
Also, Gron’s Fated is available as a paperback now!