Every story must begin somewhere. For the warrior who would come to be known as the fearsome Red Shadow, the story began in a forgotten glade deep in the land of Tressor. It was there that a pair of trackers, eager to retrieve a lost slave, instead found an orphaned malthrope. Had it been a human, it might have been treated with compassion, but in the eyes of human society a malthrope was a monster, a mix of fox and man believed to be a murderer and thief by its very nature. The beast was to be sold for a handful of silver, but fate intervened in the form of an old blind slave named Ben. Under the learned hand of the one human who believed in his potential, the young malthrope would instead be given the wisdom to take his first steps on the long journey to his destiny.
The Rise of the Red Shadow chronicles the early life of one of the most mysterious figures of the Book of Deacon trilogy, the creature called Lain. It tells of his years working and learning on a Tresson plantation until a dark day of vengeance and bloodshed finally set him free. From there you will follow as he finds his place in the world, learning what it is to be a malthrope, and turning to the purpose that will guide him for the rest of his days. It is a story of love, hate, and lessons hard-learned, revealing the painful choices one must make to become the hero the world needs.
I was lucky enough to have my Book of Deacon Trilogy featured as part of the Fantasy Bundle here at StoryBundle earlier this year. In the months that followed I heard from dozens of people who had discovered me through the bundle, so when I got the opportunity to share the latest book in the series with the same audience, I jumped at the chance.
"Excellent story, well developed characters, elegant detail, amazing prose. 5 stars to The Rise of the Red Shadow..."–Beth Allen, B. Burcroff Reviews
"The world and character creation is thorough, deep and vivid. … I felt sympathy and curiosity as I read along and was taken on this coming of life journey."–Kelly N., BookCrush.in
"...What amazes me is the ability of the author to weave a story that continues to grow, expand, and still makes me want to read more! I thought after reading the original 3 books in the series that the story was complete. Yet, here is another offshoot, or prequel, that makes me want all characters fully explored and put into book form. If you are a Book of Deacon fan, you will not be disappointed!!"–Nicole, Goodreads
In his shack, Ben woke to the sound of rain. He was pleased to discover that, though they may have cared little about the wind, the owners of the plantation knew enough to keep the rain off of their tools. The roof was perhaps the only fully intact part of the entire structure. At least he would be dry. For the most part, anyway. Here and there a gust of wind forced itself through the drafty walls and brought a spritz of water with it. Rather than wake up with a damp blanket, and no doubt catch his death of cold, the old man reluctantly climbed from his cot to shuffle it a bit farther from the wall.
"First thing in the morning, I see where the wind is getting in, and see what I can do to fix it," he muttered to himself.
Once he was satisfied that he was out of reach of even the most motivated leaks, he rolled himself onto the canvas of the cot and lay his head upon the bundle of cloth that served as a pillow. The instant sleep began to claim him though, a scratch at his door shook him from his doze. For a moment, he dismissed the noise, assuming it was a bit of bramble or an errant tree branch broken free by the wind. When it turned to an insistent hammering on the door, Ben groggily hoisted himself to his feet again.
"What is it? Whoever it is, haven’t you got the sense to stay out of the rain?" he grumbled, removing the brace from the door and easing it open a crack.
Even the whisper of an opening brought a veritable stream of water spattering to the ground by the door. It also brought a sudden pressure as something heaved itself desperately at the opening and scrabbled to get through.
"What in blazes?"
"In! In!" the malthrope squealed, trying his very best to wedge his head through the tiny opening.
"No, no, no! Out you go!" Ben growled, nudging the thing’s nose with his foot as he forced the door shut.
"In you go! In you go!" the creature whined from the other side of the door, ramming against the solid planks with all of the force his spindly frame could muster.
The creature may not have been very large, but he was determined. The rattling had dislodged the brace from where Ben had left it, and as the blind man leaned low to reach for it, one last clash shook the door just enough to rob him of his balance. The old man tumbled down, the door flew open, and the malthrope exploded into the shed. By the time Ben managed to get the door shut and braced again, he was soaked and muttering a fresh batch of profanities from his seemingly bottomless supply of them.
"Where are you, you little devil!?" he hissed.
Ben held still and tried to listen past the rattle of the walls and patter of the rain. There hadn’t been the clatter of tools when the thing had burst inside. Thanks to the need to use every last morsel of space within the shed for storage, the only place a beast might be able to hide without disturbing a crate of tools or a pile of materials was a cramped little corner beneath the old man’s cot. He crept a bit closer and crouched low, listening. Sure enough, there was panting breath and the drumming of a panicked heart. Working out as best he could where the creature’s tail ought to be, he raked his fingers across the earth and managed to grab it near its base. With the beast firmly in hand, he hauled him out into the open. The creature didn’t even struggle.
If Ben had his vision, the old man would have been treated to a truly pathetic sight. The little thing was drenched from head to toe, robbing him of his fluffiness and revealing how scrawny and gangly he really was. His paw-like hands were caked with mud from his escape, and more of the stuff smudged his rags and matted his fur. The beast twisted his head and looked up at Ben miserably, water dripping in a continuous stream and pooling on the floor. Even without seeing, Ben could feel that the little thing was chilled to the bone and shivering. He found himself feeling a dash of pity in spite of himself.
"We’ve had very little luck keeping you in that pen of yours," Ben reasoned out loud. "And we’ve had very little luck keeping you out of the grain storehouse. If I toss you out, you’ll just burrow your way into this place, or pry up a piece of the roof, or some other destructive bit of ingenuity, and then I’m stuck fixing it...so, tonight...if you don’t make a nuisance of yourself...and you don’t touch anything...I’ll let you stay in here."
"In?" the creature said hopefully.
The old man lowered his unwelcome guest to the ground, but as soon as the malthrope's paws touched the damp floor, he tried to bolt for the cot again.
"No!" Ben scolded, yanking the tail. "You stay here! Out in the open. Where I don’t have to crawl around to get you. You understand? Right here!"
Each time he said the word "here," it was punctuated by a sharp downward point of the free hand. The malthrope watched his finger.
"Here?" his guest asked, head cocked to the side once more.
"Stay here," Ben said with a nod.
"Shtay here," the malthrope attempted, mimicking the motion more successfully than the phrase.
"Yes," Ben said. "And you do not touch anything. No games, no snatching things away. No touching."
"No-touching." The phrase was spoken as a single word.
Ben slowly loosened his grip. The creature didn’t run, instead crouching on the ground and lightly shaking away some of the water still clinging to him.
"Good. Now don’t make me regret this decision too badly," he remarked, easing himself back into the cot.
The creature watched, tail swishing back and forth, as the old man drifted to sleep again. Then the little thing curled up and released a contented sigh through his nose, falling asleep for the first time in too long without the blackness of solitude heavy in his chest.
From Chapter 9:
That first year had been a good one. Jarrad’s gamble with the new land and larger rakka production had paid off, and his plantation flourished as a result. True to his word, he did much to reward his workers. Wooden tools were largely replaced with metal, and gloves and boots thick enough to withstand the vicious rakka thorns were provided to all. Even Ben felt the benefits, as the new tools required him to take on metal working, requiring an anvil and furnace. That meant a new room added to his shack, which, in turn, gave the creature a place to sleep without getting in the way any longer.
Of course, while a blind man can do a great many things by hand and by ear, one cannot hope to shape hot metal without sight. Perhaps predictably, in the early days, it was Gurruk who worked the steel. When he first took on the task, the flaring flame and pounding hammer terrified the little malthrope, sending him scurrying into the workshop for protection from Ben.
"Calm yourself," the blind man said irritably. He was at work sharpening the teeth of a saw. It was a slow and tedious process, and having a trembling beast clutching at one's legs wasn't terribly helpful.
"Why is he doing that? Why doesn't he stop?" the creature whispered urgently.
"He's doing that because that is how metal is shaped."
"But...metal is hard. How can you shape something that's so hard?"
"You shape it in the same way that you shape anything else. With something harder. You can't make something harder, or sharper, or better, without testing it against something stronger. It's the same way with anything else."
"Anything. Iron sharpens iron. That goes for men as well as metal."
"Ask the people heading into the Cave of the Beast."
Ben sighed and set the task aside for a moment, scolding himself for mentioning the place. It was a fine story, and as such the little beast surely wouldn't let him finish his job without hearing it from beginning to end.
"In the north, in the Nameless Empire ..." Ben began.
Gurruk stopped hammering and spat on the ground at the mention of the land to the north. The malthrope ducked a little lower behind Ben's chair.
"Why did he do that?" he asked.
"Because we are at war with the Nameless Empire."
"One story at a time, you little devil. Now, in the land to the north, as far east as you can go, there are mountains. At the foot of these mountains there is a very thick forest. At the very deepest part of the forest, where the trees and the mountains meet, there is a cave. They call it the Cave of the Beast. It is called that because there is a creature that lives inside. None have seen the beast and returned to tell the tale, but sometimes if you listen closely you can hear it roar with a force that makes the very mountain tremble. Those warriors who fancy themselves the best in the world make their way to this cave, with hopes of besting the beast."
"You said no one has come back."
"So they all die?"
"One must assume."
"Why would they do it?"
"Well, it is said that the man who defeats the beast will be hailed the world over as the greatest warrior who ever lived. There have been rewards offered, but most of those who test themselves against the beast do it for the glory. They say that killing the beast is proof of greatness, that no one but the strongest and most skilled of warriors could strike down the monster."
"Do you think that?"
Ben sat for a moment. "You can't fight someone without learning something. Every clash with every foe leaves each a bit stronger and a bit wiser. This creature, if it exists, has faced hundreds and hundreds of the best the world had. And it has bested them all. Imagine what it has learned in that time. And imagine what one might learn by facing it."
A sudden startling hiss erupted from the other room as Gurruk quenched the horseshoe he had been shaping in a bucket of water. The sound launched the malthrope into a run, scurrying out the door.
"That's all for today, old man," he said, setting down the hammer. "The fourth shoe can wait until tomorrow."
"Very well. Put the hammer back where it belongs," Ben said.
Gurruk rolled his eyes and slid the hammer into the other room. "You talk to that thing like it is a proper child," the dwarf remarked.
"Perhaps if I treat it like a proper child, it will grow into a proper adult."
Gurruk grunted and wandered out the door. A moment later, Ben heard the malthrope scurry back in. As he went back to work on the saw, he heard the hammer slide across the ground and, amid much pattering of feet and huffing in effort, hung on the proper hook.