Authors: Veronica Dale
“In a book world replete with genre reads, Blood Seed offers something different: a potent mix of fantasy, romance, intrigue, and a believable protagonist whose current dilemma is just the beginning.”
D. Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review
“There is something mysterious about Sheft that draws Mariat toward him, and they eventually fall in love. But the author refused to create a predictable love story.
has all the elements of a fantasy novel [but] does not let you swim in a shallow sea of fiction writing. A new approach to this genre. Five stars!”
“A riveting, beautifully rendered piece with stunning depth…The protagonist, Sheft, is unique and strong enough to rise above the wounds that would have destroyed most people. A wonderful and original tale with a strong story/character arc for the series as a whole.”
award-winning author, poet, and independent book editor.
“Fascinating concept, intriguing characters.
is a beautifully crafted page-turner.”
Bonnie Hearn Hill
, author of
If Anything Should Happen
, Severn House.
“This is a terrific book by a talented and capable writer. It includes a very sympathetic protagonist and a highly charged atmosphere that builds momentum throughout. There were times, reading this, when I was saying ‘yikes’ out loud because of the great pacing and tension.
has it all.”
editor, a writer who has circumnavigated the globe twice, and author of
, as well as other novels and short stories.
“Intense, powerful, and compelling. Certain scenes are sweetly erotic
or full of delightful creepiness. Way cool!”
Robert Neil Baker,
classic car enthusiast, humorist, and author of
Hiding Tom Hawk.
“Gorgeous and wonderfully atmospheric. Dale weaves some great threads together!”
editor, motorcyclist, romance writer, and
Grave Shifter: Shades of Black
Coin of Rulve Book One
by Veronica Dale
Published by Nika Press
Copyright 2016 by Veronica Dale
This ebook is licensed for your own personal enjoyment only. It may not be resold or given away to other people, except as permitted under Amazon’s rules. Thank you for respecting this author’s hard work.
Thanks to my family and my novel critique group,
for walking with me through the long haul!
Cover: Christa Holland,
Paper and Sage
is the first of a series, it can be read and relished on its own. For many readers, that’s all the information they might need. But for those who want to know more, read on.
is the start of a four-book journey. I’ve been on this journey—writing the
Coin of Rulve
series—since 2003, so I can offer a few tips about what to expect.
First, if you’ve never read a fantasy book before, don’t be leery of trying this one. For many who reviewed or critiqued
, it was their first experience with fantasy. And most of them were pleasantly surprised. There are no vampires, faeries, or superheroes in the
series. Nothing against these; they’re just not there. But plenty of dark Shadows are.
The Shadow is psychologist Carl Jung’s term for the part of ourselves that we regard as weak or bad, or a challenge we just can’t deal with. This Shadow can be denied—and therefore gets projected into our horror stories or even onto other people or groups—or it can be met face-to-face.
Such self-acceptance takes tremendous courage, but Jung believed that those who meet the Shadow’s challenge will find an inner light. In
, the protagonist encounters the Shadow in several nightmarish forms.
Second, even though I have a background in pastoral ministry, I’m not a preacher! As one reviewer wrote about my short story collection
, “The author never lets religion get in the way of her highly spiritual and deeply psychological message.” Many books that make an impression on us are like that. They treat spirituality—not necessarily any particular religion—as an integral part of what makes us human.
Falling in love, longing for what we do not know, or struggling to believe in oneself despite the scorn of others can be a life-changing spiritual experience. All of these and more happen in
In short, this book describes a “eucatastrophe,” Tolkien’s word for a tragic event that can be redeemed. His
Lord of the Rings
is a prime example of that, as are the New Testament Passion narratives.
So, take a chance with
and walk the first step with me in the
Coin of Rulve
journey. I’d be grateful for your company!
P.S. A heads-up: Questions for Discussion are listed at the back of this book. You might find them helpful if you belong to a book club, would like to start one with a few friends, or just want to get clued into what might be happening at a deeper level in
. If you’re like me and want to be on the lookout for these questions as you read, take a glance at them before you begin.
Veronica (“Vernie”) Dale
Every one of us carries the cross of the redeemer—not in the bright moments of our victories, but in the silence of our personal despair.
The Hero with a Thousand Faces
Blessed is the one who is alone and chosen.
Gospel of Thomas
by Veronica Dale
Sheft lay rigid on his mat in the loft. Only last night his beloved had slept here, but she never would again. Only hours ago, he thought he knew who he was, but had been wrong. And now he could no longer push aside the fear that flickered through his veins. It was the month of Hawk, and the dark of the moon. What he might have to do tomorrow night terrified him.
The low roof beam, from which dangled bunches of herbs and the ghostly white knobs of dried onions, stretched into the shadows. The tendriled shapes hung down like roots, and turned slowly in the air.
No one ever spoke about the Rites, and he had no idea what happened there. But one thing he did know. If the hostility all around him broke his concentration, if he couldn’t summon his power to stop it, then tomorrow night he would come face to face with the entity he most feared.
(Twelve years earlier, in the month of Seed)
I’ve got to hurry,
Sheft thought as he grabbed a bag of seed and the spade from the barn. It would be dark soon, and no one ever stayed out after dark. He glanced at the Riftwood, looming only two fields away. Already the claws of its ancient trees seemed to be reaching up to catch and devour the setting sun.
The rest of his chores were done, but even though he’d never get all the peas planted before sunset, he could at least make enough of a start to satisfy his father.
He’d just turned six, and Father had decreed him old enough to handle the spade, but it felt a lot heavier and more awkward than he’d expected. He slung the bag of seeds over his shoulder and, dragging the spade behind him, headed toward the kitchen garden.
He couldn’t help but look at the Riftwood again. Every twilight, when the forest cast its long shadow over the fields, his father barred the door, his mother drew the curtains, and outside their house their whole fieldhold lay uneasy under the night.
He had just reached the star-nut tree when soft cries of distress stopped him. They came from the nest up there, from the two mewlet babies that had been born on his birthday, just a few days ago on the sixth of Seed. He hadn’t told his father about the little creatures, even though he was supposed to. They used their surprisingly human-looking hands to steal from orchards and kitchen gardens and then escaped by swinging through the trees, balancing their bodies with their long tails. Farmers killed any they could catch.
It sounded like the mewlets needed help.
Setting the bag and spade aside, he climbed up to the third big branch. A pair of big eyes looked at him. They belonged to the father mewlet, who sat in a nest made of twigs and old leaves and held one of the babies on his lap.
His own father, Tarn, never held him on his lap. Only his mother did—sometimes.
The mother mewlet had disappeared two days ago, probably taken by a hawk. In other animal families, her absence meant the babies would die. But this wasn’t always the case for mewlets. In emergency situations, the father could feed the babies from a wound he scratched into his chest. He was doing that right now for one of them.
Not much bigger than Sheft’s outspread hand, the baby mewlet clutched at her father’s fur with tiny pink fingers and made gratified grunts and murmurs as she sucked. Her much smaller brother—Sheft had named him Squeak—crawled around, making soft squeaks, his eyes never leaving his father’s chest.
When the first baby was finished, the father would sometimes open another wound with his sharp, brown claw, but sometimes he seemed just too drained. Then Squeak would make those hungry mewing sounds that pulled at Sheft’s heart.
They were like the cries he sometimes heard carried by the wind. They came from far away, from across the river, from people who sounded hurt and lost. They seemed to be looking in his direction, crying out to him, and he always wanted to rush off and help them. But the sound came from across the Meera River, from out of the dangerous Riftwood.
“I know you’re hungry,” he said to Squeak, “but I’ll keep you company while you wait your turn.” He sat back against the trunk of the tree and watched the father feed his bigger baby. The mewlet was a good father, giving his very blood to his child. Maybe one day he’d be a father like that.
The wind made golden shade-dapples pass over the branches, and a feeling of peace settled over him. From up here, the sun didn’t seem so low, and the dark further off. He sighed in contentment, but worry still squirmed in the back of his mind. His mother would call him in any minute now, and he hadn’t even started digging a row for the peas.
He was about to shimmy down the tree when a startling blur of feathers and claws swooped down on the nest. A hawk. The father mewlet leaped to his feet, the baby clinging to him, and fought furiously while Squeak clutched at the tossing branch.
“No!” Sheft cried. He crawled toward the nest, the branch dangerously dipping, but it was already too late. Squeak couldn’t hold on. He tumbled down, just as the hawk took off with his father and sister in its claws.
Sheft half-slid, half-jumped down the tree, his chest so full of pain he could hardly breathe. Squeak lay on the ground and Sheft fell to his knees beside him. The baby was trembling. As gently as he could, Sheft scooped him up and held him against his shirt. He seemed to weigh almost nothing. “Are you all right? Are you hurt?”
The baby mewed weakly and began to root against Sheft’s chest.
“I don’t think I can feed you.”
The big eyes looked up at him; the little mouth made hopeful sucking motions.
Its father and mother were gone, and Squeak had nobody left. “I’ll try,” he said.
He put the baby down, pulled off his shirt, and grabbed his father’s awl out of his pants pocket. He’d used it a few hours earlier to inscribe the letter T onto the skin above his knee. He’d hoped that would get rid of the loneliness, the longing for a brother, for someone his own age who would play with him during the day and sleep with him at night, back to back. Somehow, the T stood for this person. Drawing it hadn’t helped though. He felt just as lonely as ever.
Now, as he had seen the father mewlet do, he cut his chest with the awl. It hurt a little, but he forgot about that as he swept Squeak to the wound. He cupped him in both hands, feeling the fragile bones under the tautly stretched fur. The warm little mouth began sucking, and the baby sighed in satisfaction.
It felt odd at first, but Sheft closed his eyes and let the baby pull nourishment out of him. A pleasant sensation seeped through his body and wrapped like a warm, furry animal around his heart.
I’m sort of being a good father already
, he thought.
The little body at his chest tensed, and Sheft looked down. The baby had stopped sucking. Its face twisted in pain.
“Oh no,” Sheft whispered. “Did something break inside you when you fell?”
The big eyes fluttered as a spasm shook it.
“Don’t die,” he pleaded. With one finger he rubbed the bare little stomach and then the side of its face.
“Please don’t die.”
But it did.
Squeak lay still, the light gone from his once-bright eyes. Sheft rocked him as tears spilled down his cheeks. He tried to warm the tiny body between his hands, but it still turned cold. An ache swelled inside him, so big it hurt his ribs. He squeezed his eyes shut, until finally it passed.
There was one last thing he could do. Getting onto his knees, he leaned over to scoop a shallow depression in the ground. He laid the little mewlet into its final nest and covered it with a blanket of last year’s leaves.
Tears blurred his vision, so it took him a minute to notice that blood dripped from his chest. It was making a dark, moist spot on the ground. The earth was stirring on that spot. He sat back on his heels and watched as a mat of tiny bubbles formed.
He’d bled before, but never so much that his blood dripped onto the ground. It hadn’t happened even this afternoon, when he drew the T. Sheft stared in astonishment as the bubbles hardened into seeds. All by themselves, they burrowed into the earth and then, making soft crickly sounds, little plants pushed their heads up. They swelled with green and spread out their baby leaves. Were they real? He touched them. They felt soft under his hand, just like the little mewlet’s fur.
His blood was doing this. It was bringing something fresh and green out of the soil—like farmers did with their seeds, like his father did in the fields. Joy bloomed from the very center of his body. Squeak had died, but this patch of soil lived. Father would be amazed and proud.
Almost breathless with excitement, he dried the chest wound with a handful of grass, pulled his shirt back on, and ran the short distance to the barn, where his father was repairing one of the paper-making screens.
“Father, come see!”
Tapping the screen back into its frame with his hammer, his father did not look up. “I’ve seen enough pea-furrows in my life.”
“It’s something better than that! Come on.”
Frowning, his father threw the hammer down and followed him to the spot.
“Look what I did!” Sheft exclaimed. “I bled on the ground and grew these plants.”
His father shoved him roughly aside, his eyes wide and staring. “What is this? You were supposed to plant peas, not invent stories.” He grabbed the spade and speared at the newborn plants. He chopped the delicate seed-heads from the stems, twisted the roots into the soil. Some of the leaves still poked out of the ground, and he stomped on them as if they were a pile of night-beetles, fat and hard to kill.
Hot tears blurred Sheft’s vision, and the place beneath his ribs hurt, as if something rooted there was being viciously wrenched out.
he wailed in his heart.
But he didn’t know for what, and his father didn’t seem to hear.
His face red, Tarn turned to look down at him. It was as if he looked at something inhuman, as if he saw in his own son one of the creatures that lurked in the Riftwood. “By Ele’s eyes,” he barked, “I’d hoped for a boy who’d help me fight the dark, and instead I got one who invents tales about it.”
Father dragged him into the house. “Get up to bed,” he ordered.
Mama turned away from the hearth at their abrupt entrance, but said nothing.
Sheft climbed the ladder to his loft and crawled onto his straw mattress. The cut on his chest stung, and beneath him his parents spoke in angry, hissing voices. He couldn’t make out the words, but knew they were arguing about whatever it was he had done.
It grew dark, and the voices petered out. All was silent below. To his right, a knothole in the floorboard glowed from the fire lit room beneath. He rolled onto his stomach and peered through it.
His mother, alone now, moved about. Her form disappeared from view as she headed toward the hearth. A gurgle and clink told him she had added water to the stew and covered the pot for the night. He was hungry, but there was nothing for it but to lie back and cover himself up.
The little owl that lived under the eaves gave out its sad hoot.
Or was it the owl? Maybe it was the baby mewlet.
Sheft bolted upright. Could Squeak still be alive under the leaves?
But he was too afraid to go out and see. It was night, and the Riftwood was much too close. All the tales he had heard about what lived inside the old forest jumped into his head. Tales of wraiths and voras, of luniku moths that laid their eggs in your ears, of a snake-brown stream that was never seen twice in the same place. But what scared him the most was the thing that crept out of the tales and into their everyday lives: the black mist.
On certain nights, it gathered itself out of the darkness under the great trees and found its way across the Meera River. It crawled over fields and sniffed around houses, trying to find a way inside. Sometimes it rose from the root cellar beneath your house, or seeped up through the floorboards, taking monstrous shape next to your bed.
They called it the Groper, because it had no eyes.
Sometimes it changed into the beetle-man, and then its name was Wask. Wask was a flesh-eater, and it could see.
Uneasy, he pulled the blanket up to his chin. What if Squeak were all alone in the dark, weak and shivering in the cold? He needed help. Now, before it was too late.
“Come with me,” he whispered to the boy whose name began with T.
Sheft wrapped the blanket around his shoulders and crawled through the black rectangular opening in the floor. Halfway down the ladder he stopped and glanced at the door to his parents’ room. It was closed, and he heard nothing beyond it. The fire in the hearth was banked for the night.
“Shhh,” he whispered.
He padded to the door and reached up to lift the bar. The hinges creaked, but after a moment, satisfied his parents had not heard, he slipped outside.
Frigid air struck his face and he blinked against the glaring brightness of a full moon hanging just above a cloud bank. It cast shadows everywhere, in a confusing welter of stark black and white. Nothing looked familiar.
He shivered and drew the blanket closer around him. Over the fields and across the Meera, the Riftwood rose up like a big, ever-threatening storm. The barn seemed far off. He thought of his warm bed, but the call he’d heard pulled him forward.