Authors: Karissa Laurel
HEIR OF THUNDER
The Stormbourne Chronicles – Book One
Copyright © 2016 Karissa Laurel
Cover Art Copyright © 2016 Richard Tran
ISBN (EPUB Version): 162253154X
ISBN-13 (EPUB Version): 978-1-62253-154-7
Editor: Sue Fairchild
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and
incidents are products of the author’s imagination, or the author has used them
Heir of Thunder
Quest of Thunder
Author’s Page at Evolved Publishing:
We are happy to provide at the end of this book a
Special Sneak Preview of the second book in the series,
Quest of Thunder
You might want to finish this first book before checking
it out, but if the curiosity is too much for you, just....
EXODUS FROM INSELGRAU
A rumble of thunder woke me. I shifted under my quilts,
turned towards my window, and searched the sky for clouds. Storms always made
me smile; made me feel a little less lonely. Black clouds, lightning, and rain
reminded me of better times, when thunder was a regular event in our household.
My father used to make the loveliest thunder—more like percussion in a heavenly
orchestra than cannonade and ordnance. I had never mustered the necessary
energy to expulse that kind of force. My attempts always sounded more like the
blast of a large pop gun.
Another report rippled through the air, but it sounded wrong
this time—a little too sharp and cold for something as organic as thunder. A
third, angry blast proved the source was nothing harmonious with nature. The
clamor had a cadence, a rhythm, and when I slid out of bed, the vibrations from
it quaked through the stones under my feet.
“1... 2... 3... 4....” I counted off a half-minute and—
explosion. I counted a half minute again, which concluded with another
My bedroom door flew open, and Gerda
rushed in still wearing her rumpled nightgown. The braid she wore for sleeping
had slackened during the night, and stiff rust-colored curls sprang around her
face. Fear and worry crackled from her like static from a wool blanket. “Evie,
my dear, you’ve got to get dressed.” She pulled me to my feet and yanked my
sleeping gown over my head.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
“Gideon was just at my door. He told me have you out to the
stables as quickly as possible.”
“Did he say why?”
“He did not, but I won’t be the one to contradict him. The
look on his face was murderous.”
“How is that different from any other day?”
Gerda didn’t laugh, and that worried me more than the
persistent racket. “What in the world is making all that noise?” I asked.
“I haven’t had the time to look, but whatever it is, it can’t
“I figured out that much for myself,” I said under my
If she heard me, she chose to ignore it and tossed me a pair
of wide-legged trousers disguised as a skirt.
I slipped them on while she scurried
to unearth my boots. “I take it we’re not using the carriage?”
“Gideon said you would be riding.”
“What about you?”
Gerda backed out of my wardrobe, wide rump first, and turned
to face me. A stern expression hardened her face as she clamped her hands to
her hips, and in a sharp tone said, “
are our main concern, Evie. Let’s
get you safely away, and then I’ll worry about myself.”
“Safely away from what?”
Glass shattered in a room somewhere below us and the whole
“From whatever is making that horrible clatter. Quit asking
questions and get dressed!” Gerda rarely lost her temper, especially not with
Her abnormal temperament stirred me
into action. I wrestled a high-collared blouse over my head, buckled on a wide
belt, buttoned up a short suede waistcoat, and laced up my favorite riding
She shoved me onto a stool beside my vanity and yanked my
hair, forcing it into a tight braid. “Your hair’s straight as a stick and slick
as a snake. I can never seem to weave it into a proper plait, even when I have
plenty of time and my hands aren’t shaking.”
“Forget it. I’ll twist it up like usual.” I reached back to
take over the familiar routine, but Gerda smacked my hands away.
“No, I’ve almost got it.” She grunted once and yanked again.
I winced but had the sense to keep my protests to myself.
“There.” She retrieved a ribbon from
one of her ubiquitous pockets, wrapped it around the end of the braid, and double-tied
the knot for reinforcement. “I don’t want any of it coming loose while you
I reached back and patted the careful arrangement. “Thank
you, Gerda. Now, you get dressed and we’ll go.”
“No!” She stomped a stubby foot. “Gideon was clear. He only
wants you. You must go.
Another explosion rocked the floor, and Gerda stumbled
against the wardrobe. She leaned on the heavy piece of furniture until she
regained her footing. The house shook and groaned as something structural gave
way. Yells and shouts carried up from the lower floors.
“Are you going to meet us?” I asked. My heart raced, dancing
a flittering beat. “Do you know where we’re going?”
“I don’t, but Gideon will take good care of you.”
Tears welled in my eyes, but the steely look on her face
kept them from falling. “What will you do?”
“I’m going to get dressed and gather up Stephen and our
boys. We’ll be out the door a short bit after you.”
“Then why can’t you go with me?”
“Now’s not the time for whining, Evelyn. Be a good girl and
do as I say.” She used the same mother-hen tactics she had employed when I’d
proved to be a tempestuous child. It set the proper tone to rouse me from my
“Hug me,” I said. “I’ll miss you.”
She threw her thick arms round me and pressed me into her
abundant bosom. “I’ll miss you too, my girl.”
I inhaled her scent—a mixture of all the herbs in her garden,
and especially comfrey, her favorite cure-all.
She squeezed me again and broke
away. “Gideon will keep you safe, if you’ll listen to him and not let your
impetuousness get in his way.”
She gathered my raw silk cloak from its hook by the door and
tossed it at me.
I snapped it from the air and
swirled it over my shoulders. When the cloak caught a beam of sunlight
streaming from the window, the fabric shimmered with rainbow swirls like a soap
.” Gerda yelled her final command over
the screaming of tortured metal, as if a giant-toothed creature had bitten into
the soul of the house.
I hugged her again and dashed out
In the hallway, several of the house’s other occupants
hurried past me in various states of dress. Tolick, the all-purpose houseboy,
ran toward the stairwell. He had managed to button on his trousers but had
neglected to remove his nightcap.
On the bottom floor, I turned for the kitchen.
The cooks had abandoned their breakfast preparations. A
large porridge pot bubbled over on the stove, and thick strips of bacon burned
on a griddle. A babble of excited voices drifted in from distant corridors, but
no one came my way as I scurried toward the rear door of the kitchen. Beyond the
exit, my route led me through Gerda’s garden, a sanctuary of herbs and vegetables
protected by a stone wall enclosure rising high overhead. Thick vines of ivy
and budding wisteria climbed the tops of those barriers. She would need to
prune them soon, but we were all running, fleeing these familiar walls.
Would we return before the ivy took
over? Would the house survive long enough for it to matter?
I ran past the garden’s iron gates and my breath puffed in
thin, vaporous spurts. Spring had arrived less than two weeks ago, and the
mornings still lingered in the recent days of winter. I pulled up my hood and
wrapped my cloak tighter around me as a shield against the cold.
At that moment, I could have turned around for an unobstructed
view of my house, but that would have meant witnessing its destruction. The
house cried to me, but what relief could I offer? A feeling of helplessness
settled in my gut like curdled milk. Father would have known what to do, but I
was merely his daughter, his masterwork left incomplete by an untimely death.
I hacked a derisive cough at that
As if death ever comes at an appropriate time.
Curiosity overrode my fear. I slowed, stopped, and turned on
my heel. As I wheeled around and looked up, my heart plummeted to my feet.
The house stood ablaze, smoke billowing
from several of the first floor windows. Its wooden floors and beamed ceilings
would surely feed the flames and turn the billows into a monstrosity of acrid,
black plumes. The exterior might survive the fire—an ancestor had constructed
Fallstaff from large granite blocks that had withstood tide and time for
hundreds of years—but it wouldn’t survive the volley of explosive fodder from
the trebuchet now installed on the front lawn.
One of my father’s war manuals showed illustrations of that
vicious machine, but I had never seen one in reality. Someone with a brain for
engineering had rigged this one with a system of levers, pulleys, and gears. A
steam engine automated its processes, and every few seconds a conveyer belt fed
another iron missile into a waiting bucket attached to a long wooden arm. From
this distance, the trebuchet looked like an assemblage of toothpicks and hungry
metal teeth, yet its ammunition tore holes through Fallstaff’s stone and mortar
like a moth devours a wool sweater.
A group of men stood around its base, guarding the machine
with rifles and crossbows. No one tried to engage them or fight back, as all
were too concerned with escape. From that distance, they appeared as little
more than stick figures.
I stepped closer in hopes of
recognizing their uniforms or gear.
“Evie, what are you doing?” Gideon’s unmistakable bellow interrupted
my thoughts. My father’s young horse master waited at the gate of the small
paddock beside the stables, clutching two reins in his fist. One leather line
led to his giant black stallion, Gespenst—a Dreutchish name meaning specter, or
ghost. The other tether led to my horse, Nonnie, a gray-coated mare with a
“Gideon, what’s happening?” I jogged toward him. Something
exploded behind me, and the aftershock sent me stumbling, but Gideon’s free
hand shot out and latched around my elbow. I locked eyes on his stoic face and
refused to look back.
“This is no time for an explanation,” he said. “Mount up, we’re
riding south.” He tossed My horse’s reins in my direction and slid onto
Gespenst’s back with an ease that demonstrated his familiarity with the saddle.
Nonnie snorted and rolled her eyes,
announcing her displeasure over the noise and brusque treatment she had
inevitably received from Gideon as he’d arranged her tack.
Nonnie and I managed most of our adventures on nothing more
than wild oats and a few apples lifted from the larder. This journey would
undoubtedly last longer than any we had taken in all our years together, and
she must have felt some of the same trepidation as I. She stomped an eager hoof
as I mounted, and when I nudged her forward, she fell into a canter behind
Gideon and his horse.
Gespenst bore saddlebags stuffed to
the brim. The tip of Gideon’s compact repeating crossbow, Sephonie, poked from
the edge of the flap.
I thought of my own crossbow, which I’d never felt a need to
name, and wondered if it had made its way into Nonnie’s packs. Gideon could
take a stag from horseback with one shot; I could shoot a slow moving rabbit...
if I had time to focus and plenty of solid footing.
I had no idea where we’d go, but at least we wouldn’t starve
on our way there.