#BlogTour #RandomThingsTours @annecater / #Excerpt : The Vagabond King #TheVagabondKing – Jodie Bond @jodierbond @parthianbooks

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FINAL FINAL Vagabond King BT Poster

Today I’m on the ‘The Vagabond King’ blogtour, organised by Random Things Tours.
To promote this book I have an excerpt, but before I let you read it first some ‘basic’ information.

About the Author :

Jodie Bond AuthorJodie Bond comes from a family of gin makers in the mountains of north Wales. She works in marketing and performs as a burlesque artist. She had an unconventional childhood, dividing her time between a quiet life on her mother’s farm and her father’s home which was infamous for holding some of the UK’s biggest raves in the 90s.

Synopsis :

Part 1 in The VAGABOND KING TRILOGY
1 October 2019
FICTION
Paperback/ £9.99
PRINT ISBN: 978-1-912109-37-1
203x127mm/ 400 pp
S.Region: Worldwide

The Vagabond King CoverThreon, the Vagabond King, is torn from a life in the palace by raiders and forced to scrape a living on the streets of a foreign land. Meeting a witch from distant mountains, a rebel soldier and a woman cursed by a god, he seeks retribution through a quest to reclaim his home and throne. Together they rekindle old allegiances, face an immortal army and learn to trust one another.
But when the gods begin to interfere with their plans, is it a curse or a blessing?

Excerpt :

CHAPTER ONE

‘We did it! We bloody did it!’ Savanta rushed into her mother’s arms forcing a burst of joyous laughter from the old woman.
Her mother hugged her back tight. ‘You’re back late. Thank the gods you’re okay.’
Her father followed Savanta through the front door, and a scampering of feet heralded little Erin’s appearance at the bottom of the stairs. Savanta turned to meet her daughter’s eager hug. The four of them nearly filled the small room that made up the ground floor of their home. They lived in a modest terrace house, three generations squeezed into undersized accommodation. Their ground floor comprised one room that was mostly kitchen, but they had managed to cram in a dining table fit for all four of them to sit together.
‘You did us proud, love,’ said her father.
‘We’re going to be rich!’ Erin jumped up and down and Savanta placed a kiss on her copper-haired head, unable to hide her smile.
‘Calm down!’ said Savanta. ‘Nothing’s certain yet.’
‘She’s not wrong to be excited,’ said her father. ‘The island’s first flying machine. Imagine!’
‘Dad! It was just a test flight.’ Savanta had been trying to control her expectations all the way home. Her machine, which she had named Windracer, had flown for a whole five minutes, and she was confident she could fly it longer. The Empress was throwing money at projects like hers. If she could take it to the city… gods knew, they could do with the money. ‘We’ve no idea what will happen tomorrow. Maybe they won’t buy it. Maybe Windracer won’t be able to sustain the flight.’ Her family shone with hope and she didn’t want to dampen spirits, so stopped talking.
‘Can you really fly, Mummy?’ Erin was still wide-eyed with excitement. ‘What was it like?’
Savanta threw her head back. ‘Scary,’ she said to her little girl with a grin. ‘Scary and extraordinary. I felt like a bird.’ This seemed to please Erin and she clapped her hands, giggling.
Savanta collapsed onto a chair, the adrenaline of earlier leaving her tired but elated. Today was just a test. The real challenge would come tomorrow.
The next morning Savanta and her father took the long walk to her workshop on the far edges of town. She hadn’t slept all night.
Their route took them past the slums on the outskirts of the town, and then up a steep grey hillside. It was here that she’d discovered an abandoned barn and adopted it as her workshop. The place overlooked an old open pit mine and must have once been used as storage for the mines.
Now they stood together in the barn, making final checks. Shafts of light fell warm on the machine’s wing-like structures, a thin metal frame clasping enormous fabric sheets. Years of work had gone into the thing, and now this modest rig held the weight of her future fortune.
A breeze stirred in the windows of the workshop, ruffling tattered curtains. It played along the wings, and the thing looked not for the first time, as though it lived. As she pulled open the barn’s doors, letting fresh air flood the musty room, her father circled around to the front of the machine.
‘Are you sure you’re ready?’ he asked, wrinkled brow pinching above a neat silver beard.
She nodded. ‘I’m sure. Today’s perfect. Just feel that wind.’
It was evident he was apprehensive, but he tried to hide it with a smile. ‘I’m so proud of you,’ he said.
No point in putting things off. She clapped her hands together. ‘Okay. Let’s do this!’
She unwound a rope that hung on the nose of the machine and pulled it towards the doors. It rolled behind obediently.
Outside, bright daylight caught on a landscape swirling with dust. The hill they stood on fell away to a steep cliff face revealing a grey vista from here to the horizon. The mine that once tore into the hill now lay deep and dark, abandoned below them.
She looked out beyond the mine, to the only colour in the scene; a faint blue line on the horizon. The sea.
Her father helped her unfold the fabric wings until they stretched out so far that the thin metal bent and kissed the ground.
Savanta hugged him tightly. ‘Thank you. For everything.’
He kissed her auburn hair, clinging onto her like he didn’t want to let go. ‘Are you sure you want to do this? The city is so far.’
‘You saw how it worked yesterday. Don’t sound so worried.’
‘You made Erin stay at home.’ The warning in his voice was justified; if she was certain she would make it, she would have brought her daughter too.
‘The workshop isn’t suitable for children. She’ll have plenty more chances to see it in action once I’m commissioned.’ She broke off the hug. ‘Wish me luck.’ Despite the excitement in her voice, she felt her stomach turn. It would all be fine. It had to be.
Windracer consisted of two large wings with thin metal wires connecting them to handlebars at the nose of the machine. There was a sling of fabric for her to lie on set beneath the wings, from which she could reach the controls.
A gust of air pushed past them, and lifted Windracer a foot from the ground. It crashed softly back down as the breeze passed. She grabbed hold of the rope to hold it still and ducked under the wings, climbing onto the fabric sling beneath. ‘Ready, Dad?’
‘Be safe, love,’ he said, and she could see his knuckles pale under the force of clenched fists.
He took the rope from her and pulled hard, running down the hill, towards the cliff. The wheels of the machine bounced against the uneven floor, scattering dust until a cloud formed around the pair. Another gust of wind came and the bounces doubled in size as Windracer took air under her sails.
The cliff edge neared. Savanta struggled to keep her eyes open through the dust, but she could sense her runway was nearly over. She clung to the handlebars and glimpsed her father let go of the rope. He fell flat to the ground, Windracer bounding over him.
The wheels touch the ground once, twice, and then the dust stopped. She was away from the ground, over the cliff. It began to plummet nose first, and she pulled up sharply on the heavy controls, forcing the wings against the wind.
Buzzards circled ahead, and she guided the machine in their direction until Windracer rose on the same thermal air as the birds. Slowly, the machine began to edge upwards. The ground spread out far beneath her. She laughed. Another success.
She nudged the controls around until she could see her father on the ground ahead. He waved both hands in the air, joyous laughter filling his face.
As she rose higher, more of the island came into view. Thelonia’s dull, grey landscape stretched out for miles. The extent of the abandoned mine spread out below, and beyond it many more operating mines scarred the land. Ahead of her lay the town of Tishrei, plumes of black smoke rising from the vish’aad purification process. To her right was her hometown, Tannit.
Angling the wings in its direction, she was soon above the slums where she watched in delight as people stood shock still, eyes fixed on her machine. The slums melted into suburbs, tiled roofs and crooked brick buildings squeezed tightly together. She could see her street. Her mother would be playing with Erin in the kitchen no doubt. She soon glided past her home, and past the wealthier city centre.
If the Empress granted her a commission there was a chance she would be invited to work in the capital. Her parents wouldn’t need to worry about where their next meal came from. Her daughter could go to school, have a real future.
The palace lay at the coast in the East. She pushed on toward it, willing Windracer to make the journey.
Following the lines of the main road, she watched groups of slaves and their ponies pull carts of waste material from the mines. They never looked up, plodding on with solemn determination. The grey landscape below stretched on and on. As the land sped below, she grew more accustomed to the machine, daring to glide higher, and to take sharper turns. She lost track of time, but when a glimmer appeared in the distance, she realised how far she must have come. Rumor had it the palace was made of gold. The capital was in sight. She was going to make it. She ran through her pitch again in her head, reciting the practiced words over and over.
Then the calm sky was torn with a sudden sharp wind. It slammed into her wings and threw Windracer sideways. She let go of the controls with one hand to keep herself steady on the sling.
The delicate balance keeping her airborne was broken. The craft began to spin at an angle. Her body was thrown from the sling, and she clung desperately to the handlebars as Windracer sped towards the ground. She was tossed like a feather in the air, the land beneath growing ever nearer. Her heart raced as she tried to re-balance the craft. Hooking a leg back into the sling, she tried pulling her body back into it. Another gust of wind forced the wings over again, this time tipping the craft past the point of return. She hung upside down from Windracer’s belly, her whole weight on the bars at the nose of the craft. Unable to reach the sling again, they plummeted down.
She struggled to haul herself up, thinking all the time about how foolish this was.
The gamble hadn’t paid off.
She hit the ground.
A tangle of metal. Fabric dashed across rocks. And the body of a woman sprawled on the surface.
Savanta had landed in a working mine. She opened her eyes, afraid to move. A dozen slaves ambled past, sullen eyed, apathetic.
She was alive. Miraculously.
Propping up on her elbows, she noted scrapes, blood and deep bruising. But she could move; nothing broken. The fall should have killed her.
The wind picked up again, and she shielded her eyes from dust that stirred from the mine’s surface. She mustn’t be caught here. Punishment for trespassing was enslavement or death, and she knew which she would prefer.
She stood, glancing around, looking for a way out.
Where do you think you’re going? The voice arrived on the wind.
‘Who’s there?’ It was not the voice of a slave. Nor the voice of any man. It rang in her skull, bypassing any means of hearing.
Oh, come now Savanta. I think you know, it said. The voice was male; musical and darkly playful. It arrived in her mind like an invading thought. She picked up a stick that lay on the ground, ready to defend herself. You wanted to be me, it continued. You wanted to play god.
She dropped the stick. Bile rose at the back of her throat.
Colours began to manifest on the wind, and they outlined a male form. His skin was opaque, and his slender body shifted with the moving air as though he had been drawn with ribbons that played in the breeze. His long pale hair streaked out like cirrus clouds in the wind.
She fell to the floor in prostration. ‘Lord Zenith,’ she said, face against the ground.
The voice laughed quietly, the sound now reaching her ears. ‘You are the first human to conquer the air. I’m impressed. It takes a lot to impress me. The first to join the birds and the stars in my domain.’ She kept her face to the ground, eyes clasped shut. Drawing a Vyara, one of the three gods, into the living realm was seldom met with reward. ‘Stand up.’ She glanced up, uncertain. ‘I said stand.’ The air under her body seemed to swell and grow in pressure, and she was forced to her feet.
‘Pretty thing,’ he said. As he circled her, a cool wind ruffled her hair and shirt. ‘So you were seeking to make a profit by giving the key to the skies to your race. Who gave you the right?’ The humor left his voice as he bit off the last words. She couldn’t read his face, transparent and wavering against the grey sky.
She wanted to say something, to ask for forgiveness, to beg for mercy, but no words came.
‘I am the canopy above, the night and the day, the air you breathe. And what are you? A peasant from Tannit, with no deference for the gods who keep this world. You dare to defy the natural order.’
Tears streamed down her face. Her body shook. She wanted to run, but found herself immobile.
Zenith stopped circling and moved closer. He stood several feet taller and his pupilless eyes bore down on her. ‘You want to know what I’m going to do next.’ A cruel smile played on his lips. ‘I can see the anticipation is killing you.’
He reached a hand forward and she saw it slide through her chest. She more than saw it. His translucent fingers disappeared under her skin. Her insides froze, and she felt pressure on her organs as he twisted his fingers around them. The breath was squeezed from her lungs and a dreadful sickness filled her.
His hand pushed to the back of her chest, and she could feel his palm between her shoulder blades.
‘Wait for it…’ he teased.
Savanta let out a cry. An unbearable pain. Like two knives forcing themselves from her spine, into the cool air. The pain lengthened, and she felt new bones growing out from her back. Like new branches stemming from a tree, two stumps of flesh pushed up and out of her body. They grew to her left and right, beyond her peripheral vision.
She gasped for air.
More thin bones branched down from the protrusions, forming a pair of skeletal wings. Thin fronds of flesh weaved between them and she could see veins entwining with the new skin.
Zenith removed his hand and stepped back.
Savanta collapsed to the floor and vomited. She retched until her throat was raw, and nose and eyes streamed with water.
Her body felt false, unnatural. A new weight pulled at her back.
Then a sharp tingle spread across her shoulders and spine making her shudder. The new appendages moved with her. Fist pounding the dirt, she tried to will the sensation away.
It spread from her back, along her limbs and through her chest. Hot and cold pinpricks. She saw the colour drain from her hands as they turned from tan to a deep grey. They matched the stone on which she cowered. Her red hair turned black.
A scream forced itself from her throat. In the distance, a handful of slaves looked up, but didn’t stop.
‘There, there,’ Zenith said, above her. ‘You didn’t think I was going to kill you, did you?’ She didn’t meet his eyes. Every slight movement felt unreal.
‘What’s happening to me?’
‘I couldn’t let you go totally unpunished. But to waste such a fine mind as yours… that would be madness. You really should be more grateful that you’re still alive.’
He proffered a large, formless hand. She daren’t offend him now and went to take it, surprised to find it solid, and warm like flesh. He pulled her to her feet.
Two large bat-like wings framed her small body, her skin now the colour of slate. Her shirt fell in tatters about her shoulders where it had been ripped by the wings.
‘You look marvelous.’ He gripped her by the arms. ‘Now, this is a creature that belongs in my sky.’
Savanta shuddered as chills wracked her body and sweat blistered on her forehead. The skin on her back felt strange. Tightly stretched. She found she could control the wings as easily as any other limb, but the alien movement made her nauseous. Zenith was watching her. His translucent face wavered in the wind, flickering between amusement and impatience.
She felt currents of air billowing around her. They forced her wings open to a staggering span. She looked down. This wasn’t her body. Grey skin like soft leather, a tapered waist and legs that were garishly thin. Her ribcage was rounder, and she could see the light imprint of thin bones there. She felt light, and delicate, like a twig easily snapped. The winds made her unsteady on her feet, and she worried that the fragile wings would break if she resisted against the mounting air pressure.
Fly. The word echoed in her skull.
Impulse drove her to beat the wings down, once, twice, then again and again. Her feet left the ground.
That’s it! Beautiful! Zenith’s form had swirled away with the wind, and she heard only his voice now. Let me take you higher.
Another few beats of her wings, and Savanta found herself high above the mine. She could see the Greylands stretch out for miles around.
This way. The wind changed direction, and she was forced east towards the capital.
Her eyes grew hot with tears. Fear and shock had hijacked her mind. She allowed Zenith to carry her on the wind with no knowledge of where he might lead her. She had never been overly devout, and the few offerings she made to the Vyara had always been for the Earth, never the Sky. The thought was chilling. But she also felt a sense of wonder growing as she acclimatised to the wind in her wings, the steady beating, the freedom of the empty sky.
She soared on through the blue. It was a long while before she gained the confidence to try forcing her wings against Zenith’s guiding wind. When she did, a harsh gust nearly knocked her from the air. She spiralled downwards for a few seconds before regaining her form.
You’re mine now, Savanta. You do as I say. Don’t play games.
‘What do you want from me?’ she shouted into the air. Her question went unanswered.
She endured the rest of the journey in silence, allowing his current to lead her directly to the capital.
The sun was low on the horizon when they neared, and the landscape faded from the harsh gray of the mines to a patchwork of lush green. She saw farms. The first she had ever laid eyes on. People toiled in the fields, just dots on the landscape from where she flew. Ahead were gardens. Verdant patches of land, filled with flowers, with the wealthy classes strolling, sitting, contemplating life. There were more birds here too. They kept a wide berth from her, a strange new hawk in their sky.
By now she was feeling more secure in the air. The sickness had abated. She was curious, and wanted to see more of this rich landscape. She swooped down to get a better view, prepared to meet resistance from Zenith. She met none.
Houses began to appear below. Grand houses with vast tiled roofs. Servants scurried in the streets and in the gardens. Some saw her and pointed skyward, some ran, fearing the dark figure overhead.
She flew over the largest building in the city. Its plain walls and four turrets marked it out as the palimore’s barracks. The size of the centre courtyard took her breath away. A thousand troops practiced their art in the evening air, shooting bows, engaging in swordplay, wrestling. She had heard new recruits would train here for fifty years before seeing combat.
The palace emerged from the city ahead, golden, and shining brightly in the last of the day’s sun.
Beautiful isn’t it? She had nearly forgotten that Zenith was with her.
‘More than I imagined,’ she said.
Head for the top window in the Eastern tower. The one overlooking the sea. Oh, and look out for arrows from below. I can’t guarantee you’ll be a welcome sight to the guards.
‘And if I turn back?’
Try if you must. I think you’ll find it’s an impossibility. She pressed on towards the tower, curiosity overriding any desire to flee.
Sure enough, there were shouts from the guards on the walls surrounding the palace, and these soon transformed into a volley of arrows. A sharp gust of wind sent most off course.
But one hit. It flew through her right wing. She was surprised to find it didn’t cause much pain, but it did disrupt her balance in the air. She veered to the right, and flapped hard to correct her path. She was nearly at the window, but flying too low.
The golden wall came up to meet her fast, too fast. The window was just above her head. She pushed her feet against the palace walls and reached up quickly, grabbing the ledge and pulling herself up.
Two pairs of hands grabbed her, and hauled her through the window. They forced her hands behind her back, squeezing her wings together painfully.
As her eyes adjusted to the darkness of the room, she recognised her restrainers as palimore soldiers. She had never seen one up close before. Both men had dark hair, dark eyes, and shoulders as broad as a doorway. Between plates of royal armour, she could make out bulges of muscle thick as tree trunks. Their size and power was staggering. She didn’t resist.
‘What are you?’ one of them barked. ‘And what is your business?’
‘Zenith,’ she whispered, half in answer and half in a call for help. None came. What was she doing here?
‘Let it go,’ said a woman’s voice from across the room. They released her.
The room looked like it had been chiseled out of rock. Exotic plants climbed the walls, and the floor was rough stone, swirled with lichen in intricate patterns. She had never seen anything like it. Flowers were rare in the greylands, but here, even in this dim room, they flourished in a collage of colour.
The woman stepped towards her on bare feet. She wore no fabric, but her body was heavily ornamented in gold, silver, copper, iron and stone. An intricate metal belt sounded musically as she moved. Her arms and legs were ringed with bands of multi-coloured stones and metal. A heavy slate tork sat about her neck and chestnut hair curled down to her hips. The Empress expressed her devotion to the Earth god even in the way she dressed. Her close relationship with the god Deyar was known by all on the island of Thelonia. She had married the god.
Savanta dropped to one knee. ‘Empress,’ she said.
‘What a marvelous creature,’ the woman said. She knelt down to Savanta’s level and stroked a wing, pulling it out gently to reveal the thin flesh between her bones. ‘What are you?’ she asked.
‘My name is Savanta, Empress,’ she spoke into the floor. ‘I come from Tannit.’ She faltered. What was she? A question she didn’t have an answer for.
‘Get up.’ Savanta rose. ‘What brings you here?’ The Empress circled her, looking her up and down.
‘Zenith brough-’ She was silenced by a sudden tightness in her lungs, as if all the air had been snatched from the atmosphere. She couldn’t speak. A light wind swirled the room, and Zenith appeared before them. She gasped in a deep breath as he released the hold on her lungs.
His translucent appearance became more solid this time. His outline formed a regular sized man, long blond hair, a flowing blue courtier’s outfit stitched with a large sun, and a black cloak which glinted with jewels like stars. His face was handsome, androgynous features offering a singular beauty.
The guards behind her knelt as they recognised the Vyara.
‘Ah, my Lord Zenith,’ said the Empress. A note of displeasure played just under the surface of her voice. She did not kneel.
‘Keresan,’ he replied, and flourished a bow matched with a mocking smile. ‘I bring you a gift. This is Savanta. A loyal servant to the Empire. I plucked her finest details from my dreams, and weaved them into this beautiful tapestry for you and your dear husband.’ He smiled broadly. ‘She was on her way to present a gift to you when I found her. But I thought it much more fitting that she should give her whole self to you.’ He gave a magnanimous wink. ‘Consider her a gift of friendship; put her to good use for my brother’s sake. Her wings are far more swift than ships that cross the sea, and her reports more fluid than notes carried by birds.’
Savanta shifted uneasily on her feet. She had wanted to come to sell her design, and now faced being gifted like a slave. She gauged the distance to the window behind her to be about two meters. Both soldiers stood blocking the way. She would have to find another means of escape.
‘I’m sure my husband will be delighted,’ the Empress said. ‘Your brother was beginning to worry that he had fallen out of your favour?’
‘Oh, never my lady! I wouldn’t dream of giving dear Deyar offence.’ Scathing sarcasm radiated from his smile. ‘My powers dwindle here since you so wisely outlawed my worship. I bow to him on your shores. For now, at least.’
‘I wouldn’t want you to forget it.’ Savanta saw his face twitch in anger. She had long known the power their ancient Empress held, but to see her speak down to a god made her skin shiver.
‘No, no. Impossible. Especially since you gave him that title. King of the Gods. How resplendent!’
‘I sense envy, Zenith. You deny his title?’ She flexed her fingers with the impatience of one speaking to a peevish child. ‘His worshipers far outstrip those who follow you and your sister. His power grows daily as yours fade.’
‘Does an Empress outrank a King, I wonder? It’s hard to know if you’re his puppet or if it’s the other way around…’
‘Enough!’ He seemed amused by her anger, but still fell into silence. There wasn’t a man, woman or child who didn’t know the Empress’s devotion to the Earth god was all-consuming. It had shaped their land, their laws and their history. Zenith’s accusation that she might be using him seemed to have struck a nerve. She met his eyes in confrontation and then released a breath, calming herself. ‘Enough,’ she said, more quietly. Then, changing the subject, ‘Any news from your sister?’
‘None, my lady. She hasn’t left the water for some time. Honestly, I think she prefers the company of fish to our family. But, who could blame her?’
‘It’s about time she came to pay tribute to the Earth. Her absence hasn’t gone unnoticed.’
‘I’m sure my brother will find some way to dry up the seas if she continues to offend.’
‘Don’t doubt that he couldn’t. It’s entirely within Deyar’s power.’
‘I’m sure.’ He nodded vigorously, with a patronising purse of the lips.
‘I don’t need your petulant attitude, Zenith. Need I remind you what happened the last time you overstepped your mark?’
The smile dropped from Zenith’s face. ‘Some people show all the gratitude. I was leaving anyway. Enjoy the gift.’ His form shattered into dozens of singing starlings. Savanta ducked as they flew at her and streamed past the guards, out of the window, into the sunset.
Keresan looked pleased. ‘Wyn,’ she said to one of the guards, ‘take her to the Minister of Secrets. Ask him to find something for this creature to do.’
‘Yes, your grace.’ Hands like iron took hold of her, and thoughts of escape were replaced with fears of the damage a man this size could inflict. She stared around wildly and allowed herself to be led out of the chamber, deeper into the palace.
It was late that night when Savanta was shown to what would be her new home. A room in the House of Eyes. The palimore who escorted her gave a gentle push at her back when she hesitated going through the door. She stepped in. A simple room, small and undecorated; a single bed, a wooden chest and a chamber pot. There was a bowl of food at the foot of the bed. She turned to say something to the guard, but he was already closing the door. The bolt slid across. When the sound of his footsteps had faded, she forced her shoulder against the door. It wouldn’t budge.
She was both physically and emotionally drained, and soon lost the energy to continue beating herself against the door. She picked up the bowl of food. Rice and vegetables. Real, fresh vegetables. And rice from across the sea. She devoured them in moments and sat down on the bed.
Tracing a finger along her arm, she was unable to identify the grey skin as her own. Falling back onto the bed with a sigh, she landed painfully on one of her wings, then rolled onto her side and pulled the wool blanket over her head. The bed was far comfier that the one she had at home. But it was missing something vital. Erin. She clutched the blanket in one hand, willing herself not to cry, but her bottom lip was already trembling and she let out a sob. How long would they keep her here? What would Erin think when she didn’t come home? She would have given anything to hold her little girl.
She reached out to Zenith with prayers for forgiveness, and prayers of mercy, until tears soaked her pillow and sleep took her.

The Magic of Wor(l)ds