In case you haven't been following me on social media, I released a new novella this week: Phillip and the Impossible Quest! This is the third novella in the Chosen by the Masters series. We learn a little more about Asta and her friendship with Irma in this story as well as what became of Asta's people after the attack on Kenshore. As is tradition, here's an excerpt!
The Holgarian commander set a tin cup of water on the table before me. He was a large man with broad shoulders that were barely protected by the strange plates of his armor. A black mustache curled out from under his rather large nose. He was missing a chunk of his left ear.
“Drink,” he said.
I stared at the tin cup a while, contemplating whether my fear of poisoning was stronger than the intensity of my thirst.
With a roll of his eyes, the commander lifted the cup and took a sip. Then he offered me the cup again. I didn’t hesitate to accept this time and downed its contents in two eager gulps. He took the cup away from me and handed it to his associate, who then scurried out of the tent to fetch more water.
“I’m called Kozac,” the commander said. “And you?”
“Phillip,” I croaked.
“Do you know why you’re here, Phillip?”
“I suppose you’d like to know how I was able to stand my ground against three of your warriors.” I locked gazes with the apparition standing in the corner of the commander’s tent, the crimson-eyed man only I could see, the person who had aided me in the fight. He gave me no directions this time. He merely stood there and watched the interaction with his hands clasped behind him.
“I honestly couldn’t tell you,” I murmured.
“Your eyes are a normal color so I’m not inclined to believe our Heavenly Master of Warriors graced you with the same abilities that we have,” the commander said, pacing before me. He scrutinized me with narrowed copper eyes. “While you do appear to be strong, it’s an average human strength, one I assume you gained after many years at an anvil.”
I drew my hands into my lap, under the table. Not that it would do me any good now. He had already guessed my profession.
“My men claim that you moved at an average human speed as well,” he continued.
The warriors stationed at the mouth of the tent nodded when the commander glanced their way.
“There was nothing abnormal about the way he moved. It was more like he knew what we were going to do before we did it,” one of them said.
“Which is impossible,” another murmured.
“Yes, but so are our abilities,” the third said with a shrug.
“Has one of your gods given you the gift of foresight, Phillip?” Commander Kozac asked with an arched brow.
I glanced once again at the silent ghost among us. Brown skinned, black hair tied back with a cord, dressed as any mortal man in my town might, he didn’t appear to be a god. And yet, the more I stared at him, the more I felt in my bones that he wasn’t normal. Beneath the fringe of hair over his forehead, I glimpsed a swirling purple mark of some kind. A subtle glow emanated from his skin and the air around him seemed heavy, charged with a strange sort of energy. The fact that no one else could see him also clued me in to his…abnormality. He was the one who had burst into existence beside me and told me exactly what I’d needed to do in order to avoid the attacks of the Holgarians. He was the one gifted with foresight.
Only the Heavenly Father and his saints held that particular power. Lueska was my patron saint; it was said she loved and protected those who worked with their hands. I had a painting of her hanging up in the smithy. But she was always depicted as a woman. So who was this quiet sentry watching over me now? He’d saved my life on that bridge but he hadn’t interfered when the Holgarians had knocked me unconscious and dragged me to their encampment in the forest.
Who are you? What are you planning? Why am I here? I wanted to ask. And how much am I supposed to share with these barbarian warriors?
I shrugged because Commander Kozac was still waiting for an answer. “I’ve never been able to tell the future.”
“I didn’t think so.” Scratching the back of his neck, the commander continued to pace. “Well, Phillip, whether or not you’ve been blessed by a Heavenly Master, you’re still a skilled swordsman and a blacksmith. I could certainly use someone like you in our camp.”
I raised my eyebrows at him.
“We have local captives gathering lumber and working the coal mine for us, loading our barges with supplies to send back to our island,” the commander elaborated with a wave of his hand, “but our mission is far from over. General Halvar will return within weeks and expect us to be ready to continue our crusade across your land. Our armor is in need of repairs and we can always use more weapons.”
“You expect me to willingly assist you in the fight against my kinsmen?” I asked. “Are you mad?”
The commander shrugged. “We can torture you first if that would make you feel better, but I would rather avoid harming you since we would need you at your best.”
My hands tightened into fists in my lap. I wanted to be brave. I wanted to refuse, to state that I would rather die than help them kill or enslave more of my people. But I wasn’t brave. I didn’t have a particularly high pain tolerance despite my daily proximity to fire and sharp metal. And I had reasons to live, one of which was waiting for me back in my hometown of Efra, the other of which might be here in this very encampment. Waiting for me to rescue him. It would be in their best interest if I lived and cooperated with the enemy for now. At least, that’s what I told myself.
Still, I was riddled with guilt as I looked up at the commander and said, “Very well. I’ll help you.”
I was running late the day I met Irma. (This was important to note because I was never late. In fact, I prided myself on being on time to my appointments, if not early. But I later thanked Lueska that I was late to this particular appointment because, if I hadn’t been, I might’ve never met the love of my life.)
I was still an apprentice under my uncle, Aatami, at the time. The sword I was to deliver to Irma’s house was the first I’d been allowed to create on my own. I wanted it to be absolutely perfect so I took much longer to create, polish, and sharpen it than any of the other swords I’d delivered for my uncle. It was half a day’s ride from Efra to Kenshore; even though I pushed my horse as fast as it could run, I still arrived at my customer’s home an hour after I’d promised to be there.
Based upon the specifications for the sword—which had been provided with the order—I expected my client to be a wealthy, middle aged war veteran. I was surprised when the directions I’d been given led me to a humble stone house with a thatched roof on the outskirts of town. There was a garden on one side, a small stable and a chicken coop on the other, and a well by the front door. It was a charming little piece of property, peaceful. I tied my horse to one of the well’s posts and approached the door with the sword box under my arm. I scarcely had time to knock before the door was thrown open.
There Irma stood, tall and proud and angry. (Of course, I hadn’t learned her name yet. In that moment, she was an angelic stranger to me.) Her skin was as dark as a slab of walnut wood, her eyes darker still. Her black hair was fashioned into multiple braids and tied back with a leather cord. She had cheekbones that could cut through a man’s heart and the most perfect little nose that I’d ever seen. She wore a plain blue dress with a white apron that fit loosely, but the body beneath was strong. I could tell she did manual labor daily and for long hours.
“Do you own a pocket watch, Mr. Blacksmith?” she asked, crossing her arms. “Do you have any idea what time it is? I’ve been waiting for over an hour.”
I blinked at her and said nothing. Since I was a stocky, ape-of-a man with thick arms and an even thicker skull, one would think me capable of defending myself. One would be wrong.
“My father was supposed to receive the sword. He couldn’t wait for you any longer or he’d be late for work, so I had to stay home in order to accept the sword on his behalf.” She poked me in the chest. “My students are waiting. What have you to say for yourself?”
I should answer her now, I thought but the words didn’t come.
“Well?” she asked, throwing her hands in the air.
You don’t want to anger her further. Just tell her you wanted to provide the best possible product. Your customers are valuable to you. She’ll understand… and hopefully lower her voice.
I inhaled, prepared to explain. What came out instead was, “You’re beautiful.”
Irma’s brow crinkled and her mouth drew back, creating a unique and comical expression.
I cringed. Heat raced up my neck, made my ears catch fire. “I-I-I apologize. What I meant to say is that you’re perfect—I mean, I wanted your sword to be perfect. Here.” I shoved the box at her. Then I stepped back, folded my hands, and stared down at my twiddling thumbs.
Irma opened the box. The quiet squeak of the hinge prompted me to look up. I wanted to see her reaction to my creation. Instead, I found her critical eye was aimed at me.
I chuckled. I wish that I were. Then I’d have an excuse for acting like a buffoon.
“No, Miss. I’m easily flustered; that’s all. Again, I apologize.” I gestured to the box, avoiding her eyes. “Does the product meet your expectations?”
After a cursory glance—which broke my heart—Irma snapped the lid closed. “I couldn’t tell you. My father is the expert swordsman.” She stepped back into the house to set the sword aside. When she came to the doorway again, she carried a pouch of coins. “Here’s your payment. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to hurry. I won’t let the children wait on me any longer.”
“Your name, Miss?” I asked before she could shut the door in my face. “F-For my records.”
“Irma,” she said flippantly. “Good day.”
“Good day, Irma,” I said as the door separated us.
“Her name is Irma,” I told the horse while I road back to Efra.
“Irma,” I whispered as I directed my horse into my uncle’s stable.
Irma, I thought while sipping my supper.
“Irma,” I said as I lay in bed that night, wide awake. “What I wouldn’t give to make you my wife.”
Phillip, as you may have surmised, is a gentle but awkward soul, a different kind of main protagonist for me. I usually write main characters who are a little more brazen so this novella was a fun challenge for me. It's available on all the major platforms in paperback and ebook. Check it out and let me know what you think. Anyone interested in receiving a free ebook in exchange for an honest review, please reach out to me!