Authors: Eric Buffington
The Secrets at the Keep
This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations, and events portrayed in this book are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
The Secrets at the Keep
Copyright © 2016 Eric Buffington
All Rights Reserved
Front Cover art by Bob Kehl
To my daughter EmmaLeigh
Daddy’s Biggest Fan!
Other Books by Dragon Scale Publishing
The Protector of Esparia
by Lisa M. Wilson
Kingdom of Denall Series
by Eric Buffington:
The Sorceress of Aspenwood Series
by Sam Ferguson
The Dragon’s Champion Series
by Sam Ferguson
The Wealth of Kings
by Sam Ferguson
The Netherworld Gate Series
by Sam Ferguson
The Dragons of Kendualdern
by Sam Ferguson
Bob, the cover art on The Troven and Secrets at the Keep are incredible! You’ve taken my words and brought them to life! I’ve gotten so much feedback about the amazing covers, so I need to pass that along. Fantastic!
When I started writing Secrets at the Keep I knew where to turn for feedback and help. The first people to see my writing and give direction and suggestions on this work were instrumental in getting a good story from my mind to the page. Thank you to my father-in-law, Dave. He has read everything I’ve written and asked great questions that change the direction of the stories and makes me think more deeply about the characters.
George and Laura also gave amazing feedback on early editions of this book back when they said it was a good story, but not a great book. Their comments and friendship have helped encourage me to make it into a great book.
I had two ‘polishers’ on this book before I submitted it to publishers: my sister-in-law Julia and my cousin Jill. Together they made thousands of recommendations that helped make the book much better. Through Julia’s help I have learned that I have no, clue, how, to, use, a, comma.
The Dragon Scale team was amazing on this project. Rachel, I honestly don’t know what this would look like without your direction. The best editor ever! Even after I thought the book was as good as it could be, you took it to a new level. One question from you can start a chain reaction of ideas that I would never have thought possible.
Now the hardest person to thank… MaryBeth. There is no way to adequately give her credit for all that she has done. From the first typed words, she has been my constant partner on this project. She is the one who suggested character centered cover art, she helped me organize all the thoughts in my mind into one trilogy, and when I get stuck, she helps me get going. Hundreds of details big and small are in this trilogy because of her. She is amazing!
Finally, I need to recognize everyone who has read the Troven! As an author I tried to make a story that would bring you into Denall and it is wonderful to see so many people reading and enjoying it! When I see reviews that say people are anxiously waiting the next book, it pushes me to make the next book the best it can be, and get it written and available for you. Thank you and welcome to the next adventure in the Kingdom of Denall!
In a secluded office deep in the heart of Baron Omer’s keep, the intellect marks on Maven’s forehead flared red as the middle-aged man searched through an old tome again, reading the familiar prophecies about the Stones of Power, hoping he could glean something new that he could report to his employer. Lately the baron had become even more impatient, and it seemed to Maven that the only reason he was kept alive was the fact that he managed to report something about the stones each week which Omer had not previously known. He was not sure, however, whether he would be able to repeat his success much longer.
He scanned through the notes he had gathered over three decades of study. Six stones connected to each of the six gifts. Each stone magnified the abilities of someone with the corresponding gift, allowing them to see farther, hear more expansively, draw upon greater strength, utilize a greater range of magic, or analyze more effectively.
What was more, he was beginning to hypothesize that the common way in which each gift presented itself was only scratching the surface of the potential that could be unlocked for one who held a Stone of Power.
The Hearing Stone, for example, enhanced the holder’s hearing, but was also connected with discovering magic. When the holder had the Hearing Stone, he could hear strange vibrations that came from magical items. The Hearing Stone was the only stone he had personally seen. So while it was the basis for this hypothesis, he could only make assumptions about the other stones. If the stones were made at the same time by the sorcerer Yar, then it was highly probable that they all worked the same way.
He wanted to do further experiments on the Hearing Stone, but Omer kept it hidden away. Maven wondered how the baron had come by the stone, and what his plans for it were, but those questions did not matter. The important thing was that Omer had the Hearing Stone, and he wanted to find the others. He wanted to gather them for himself, for his own gain and power.
Maven jumped when his study door shook from a pounding on the other side. Omer had come for his report, and Maven had not found anything new. He began to sweat. He searched his papers for something that he knew wasn’t there. What could he tell the baron to pacify him? The knock came again, louder and more urgently.
“I’m coming,” Maven called out as he rose to his feet and went to the door.
He unbolted the door and opened it. Omer pushed it open, but Maven was not watching him, his eyes were on the three men behind him. One large soldier, one magician, and one slave from Hess. “Master Omer,” Maven began. “How can I help you?” He bowed low while keeping his eyes upon the group who had just crowded his small study area.
“What do you have to report?” Omer demanded.
Maven sat down at his desk and rummaged through some papers. “As I studied the prophecies of the six stones and the six gifts, I noticed that there is no place where it directly names what all the gifts are. In fact I can’t find any record at all of an enhanced gift of smell. I have started looking through the ancient records for any hints of a different sixth gift,” he stammered. He was trying to delay the baron, hoping he would have an idea, but as he looked at the papers, and felt the weight of the eyes looking at him, he was drawing a blank.
“You already told me that,” Omer said, cutting him off. “Did you discover anything new?” He glared down at Maven. “Anything useful?”
“I found some evidence of the strength gift being connected to healing. I know that in the past you have found that your body does heal quickly. I think that is a manifestation of your gift of strength. With the Strength Stone, perhaps that would be magnified even more.” He stopped talking and looked up to Omer. He knew Omer was not impressed.
“Cleavon,” Omer said over his shoulder.
The magician stepped forward and bowed his head. “Yes, Baron.” Maven sank deeper into his seat. The tall foreigner wore a long, dark magician’s robe and held a straight staff in his hand. His black beard was cropped short and his black eyes were haunting.
“I’m sure I have something here,” Maven said, shuffling some more papers nervously.
Omer grabbed the slave and pulled him into the room. He pushed him down so he was sitting on Maven’s lap. Omer pressed a dagger into his hand. Maven looked from the dagger back up to the baron, not understanding what was happening. “What’s this for?”
Without an answer, he felt a surge of pain pound through his body. He knew the cause was magic – no one was touching him, and he noticed the marks on the magician’s left wrist flaring to life. He tried to struggle away from the pain, but it intensified, flowing from the magician and into Maven, and then he could feel it moving into the slave. Omer reached into his pocket and pulled out the Hearing Stone, and placed it in the slave’s hand. The slave began to shake. “If you want your family to live, activate your gift,” Omer said to both Maven and the slave. Maven tried to ignore the pain, and the marks on his forehead deepened as he concentrated on using his gift of intellect. It was hard when his mind was filled with pain and the only problem he wanted to solve was what was happening to him and this poor slave. He also saw the red marks on the slave’s left ear darken as his gift of hearing was activated.
From behind, the large guard grabbed Maven’s arm and pushed it forward, plunging the dagger into the slave’s heart. The slave dropped to the ground dead, and the pain stopped throbbing through Maven’s body. He leaned forward on the desk in complete exhaustion, then looked down at the blood covered dagger in his hand and dropped it to the floor next to the dead slave.
“What’s going on?” Maven asked.
Omer did not answer, but instead grabbed Maven’s head and looked at his ear. “It worked!” The words were like echoing bombs going off in Maven’s head. What was wrong with his hearing? “Look,” Omer said as he tilted Maven’s head to the side. The magician, guard, and Omer all looked down at Maven, and he still had no answers as to what was going on.
“Maven,” Omer said. His voice was thunder in his ear. “Now you have something new for that notebook of yours.”
Maven tried to register everything that was happening. He had heard about gifts being transferred, but it was never done this way.
What kind of unnatural dark magic was this? What did the Hearing Stone have to do with it? Was he always going to hear things so loudly? Was Omer going to keep killing slaves to transfer gifts?
“Can you hear me?” He heard the question through a fog of other noises and realized after a moment that he was picking up sounds from all over the keep, and he began mumbling out loud the words he was overhearing from conversations as they came pouring into his ears. As the thoughts swirled in Maven’s head, Omer shouted, making Maven’s eyes pop open in agony and he threw his hands over his ears. He rocked back and forth, trying to gain some control over the pain in his head and the questions that he couldn’t stop from coming. Omer kept speaking, but Maven couldn’t make out the words he was shouting as he tried to tune out some of the overwhelming sounds that assaulted him.
Finally some relief came when the door clicked shut. Maven looked around his office; there was a blood stain on the floor, but thankfully Omer’s guard had removed the body on his way out.
In the hall outside the closed door, Maven could hear a conversation between Omer and the magician. “He’s lost his mind,” Omer said with no note of emotion in his voice. “Maybe using the stone was too much. No big loss; he hasn’t given me any useful information in a while. Can we try again tomorrow?” he asked.
“Tomorrow?” the magician questioned. “Why the rush?”
Omer’s voice was filled with intensity. “We need this perfected. I need an army.”
Maven sank into his chair and held his hands over his ears again. Every drop of water, every noise from the rooms above him, and every time a person walked past in the hall, the sounds seemed to blast at him. He wondered if he would ever be able to get that under control. He wondered how this could happen. Maven had been one of the foremost scholars on the topic of the Stones of Power when he was studying in the capitol city of Norwell. When he was approached with the opportunity to do research for Omer, he had been excited. One of the king’s appointed barons was doing research to help prepare the kingdom against the time of The Changing, and he was going to be part of that. He had felt such pride and patriotism and now he was reduced to this. He glared at the door through which Omer had just left as he made a decision. He was going to use his new gift to spy on the baron. Then, when the time was right, he would get his revenge on Omer, and the king who would let such an evil man rule in his kingdom.