Prince Tor and his brothers must take part in a quest, the winner of which will earn the right to take over the throne. Clues have been left to direct the competitors to each location, providing hints as to who or what they need to take with them on each stage of their journey. What started off as an adventure, a chance to make new friends and catchup with old acquaintances, has turned into a deadly nightmare. Tor is only half way through the quest, but already he has lost companions,and witnessed the death of one of his brothers, making him realise how serious the quest has become.
In a world full of witches, wizards, mythical creatures and monsters, Tor and his team must use all of their wits, skills and magical ability to solve the remaining puzzles before any more of them die.
When the latest clue requires them to seek "a guide from another world", finding the person is the easy part; persuading them to risk their life for a group of stranger will be a bigger challenge.
Dying is becoming rather inconvenient was his last thought as the sword was slowly pulled from his limp body, allowing him to slip to the ground.
His attacker, wiping the bloody sword on the immaculately tailored trousers of the still twitching corpse, grinned. He looked at his feet, then at the nearly new black leather boots on his victim, trying to decide if they were his size. He didn’t catch the slight movement out of the corner of his eye, nor hear the soft whistle the arrow emitted as it flew through the air. He didn’t feel his spinal cord sever as the arrow found its target. By the time he hit the floor he was already dead.
The archer rushed over, placing his hand on his murdered friend’s neck. Feeling no pulse, he let out a sigh.
“Oh Patrick, not again,” he whispered. “When are you going to learn to take better care of your body?” He slowly stood up, muscles aching. It had been a long, strenuous, fight. He needed a warm, relaxing bath and a cold tankard of ale, but that wasn’t likely to happen any time soon.
He turned round, hearing singing in the corridor behind him. The old man was still dancing and throwing a crystal ball into the air and catching it. They had won. He should have been happy, but all he could feel was regret. Was this much loss of life really worth it?
It was dark outside by the time he joined the others by the camp fire, unceremoniously dropping Patrick’s body behind him.
“I see Patrick didn’t make it again,” a gruff voice commented from the other side of the fire. “He’s going to be mad in the morning. That was his favourite shirt.”
“I told him not to wear it,” another voice responded.
A leg was pulled from one of the chickens roasting over the fire and handed to him. He ate hungrily, juices dripping into his beard, cursing as the hot meat burned his tongue. He broke some bread from a nearby loaf, not caring that it was stale. “I wish we had some butter,” he murmured.
Looking around he noticed the old man, sitting by himself, under a tree. He was staring at the crystal ball. Tor could see his lips moving, but he was too far away to make out what he was saying. “I take it he has not figured it out yet,” he said, to nobody in particular.
“No,” came the reply. “The last clue said something about elementary writing, whatever that means.”
“Elemental, not elementary.” Nobody had heard Ellen approach, but they all looked up upon hearing her soft voice. “It ended with ‘elemental writing will show you the way’.”
Tor smiled. Was there anything Ellen didn’t remember? The frown across her pale face showed she was still thinking about the latest puzzle. “Are the others on their way?” Tor enquired. “This chicken is edible, but I could really do with one of Seth’s stews right now.”
“They should be here soon,” Ellen replied, her frown turning into a grin, which instantly fell from her face as her eyes drifted from Tor to the shape behind him. “Bloody hell Patrick,” she swore. “If you were not already dead I would murder you. That shirt was clean on this morning.” Not many people could make Ellen angry, but Patrick seemed to excel at it. “When you have all finished eating, could one of you undress him for me?” she asked. She leaned closer to the body. “I had better have his trousers as well,” she added, noticing the dark blood stains made visible by the firelight.
Less than an hour later, she was sitting by the fire, eyes closed, softly chanting, as though in a trance. The blood on the shirt in her lap slowly disappeared, as though being sucked away, and the tear caused by the sword became increasingly smaller until there was no trace of it left in the silk. When she had finished she neatly folded it and placed it on the already clean trousers.
“I still find it fascinating watching you work,” Tor said, the admiration he felt evident in his voice. A twig snapped behind him and he span round, sword in hand. His tense muscles relaxed as Seth stepped out from behind a tree, leading a donkey.
“What did I miss?” he asked, tying the donkey to the tree and helping its rider dismount. Once on the ground, the dwarf slowly made his way to the fire.
“Not much,” came the reply. “We got here just in time. Had to fight Gallad’s men to get in and I grabbed the last ball just before him.” Tor looked down at the ground, sadness creeping over his face. “Gallad is dead. He fell on his own sword as soon as he realised there were no balls left.”
He lifted his head to stare at the fire, tears forming in his eyes. Gallad had been a good brother, though they had rarely spoken over the last few years. He had always loved court life and could never understand Tor’s need to be in the forest, away from people and court politics. Murmurs of sympathy crept round the camp as Bellak stomped over, throwing the ball on the ground in disgust.
“I do not get it,” the old man grumbled. “I have tried everything I can think of. Nothing changes this from being just a plain glass sphere. There are no words anywhere. I cannot break it open. Magic does not work. I have tried every spell I have ever heard of. I do not care how elemental the words are, they are of no use to me if I cannot see them.” He sat down, still frowning, and grabbed a piece of chicken.
Ellen had finished her work and moved closer to the warmth of the fire. Patrick’s body was now only partially clothed, but nobody took the trouble to cover it up. “Serves him right if he is cold when he awakes,” she muttered, when asked if she wanted a blanket fetched.
She picked up the ball and started tossing it into the air, then catching it again, quietly repeating “elemental” over and over again. Suddenly she threw it into the fire. Everyone jumped back as sparks flew in all directions.
“What the hell do you think you are doing you stupid girl,” Bellak cried, as he rushed to the fire to retrieve the ball. Muttering an incantation, he put his hand into the fire to remove the ball. He let out a yell, seeing words forming on the surface, dull and blurred, but slowly getting clearer. It was not long before everyone round the fire could read them.
From another world comes your guide
To show you where the clue doth hide
Over hill and under mountain
It lies inside the maiden’s fountain.
Across the desert you must seek
The hidden way, from those so meek
Two must go into the heart
But only one can then depart
Trudie Collins is the author of the Tor’s Quest fantasy series. Having been born and raised in England, she emigrated to Australia with her husband and young son in 2001 and now lives near Sydney. She began writing when travelling to work on the train each day. Trudie works for one of the big 4 Australian banks as a technical business analyst and writes fantasy novels as a way of escaping reality. All 5 books in the series are available on Kindle through Amazon.
Trudie wrote the first line of this book a long time ago when she was listening to the radio while driving to work one morning. The DJ asked people to phone in with what would be the first line of a novel, were they ever to write one, and she I instantly thought of this one.
How would you start your own novel? Email the first line only to Trudie at firstname.lastname@example.org (title of the email must be 'First Line') by the end of February 2015 and she will send a Kindle (Mobi) copy of The Guide (Tor's Quest # 1) to her favourite ten.