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from The Hunt for Bheanoira by Dacia M Arnold

Chapter 1

Jude lowered the map to study the horizon. A warm breeze blew his black sweat dampened hair into his face. From the top of the hill he saw a small town in the distance, given away by the specks of light burning bright against the dimming eastern sky. Beyond the town looked black as if the complete absence of light cupped the small village, able to snuff it out with a mere clap. He would have to wait until first light to verify, the darkness was the perilous wood of legends.

His hand traced down the heavy sword sheathed in thick leathers from tip to pommel. His whole life, the countless quests for magical items and information, all led him here to this town: Sciorta. His pulse quickened, fluttering up to his throat with anticipation. Jude coughed to clear the ball and slow his heart, knowing better than to act hasty. Sciorta was a small community and not accustom to new residents. He would need time to gain their trust and learn if the rumors were true. Did they in fact serve as the gate keepers to the lair of Bheanoira?

Tugging on Luch’s reigns, he coaxed the tired horse back down the hillside out of sight. He would need the light of morning to confirm his location before making his way to Sciotra. Luch snorted as she trotted, carrying Jude’s necessities. She had been his companion since the beginning, when he was merely a boy setting out on his first quest. Stubble had just sprouted on his chin the day he pulled her from the old pub near his home. Every day for a week he walked by and she stood unattended until finally he went in and inquired of her owner. The bartender pointed to a slumped figure in a back corner of the bar. Just before dusk, Jude returned to the pub and offered the horse shavings of old cheese. She gave no objection to being untied and followed Jude home on her own accord. What he found most remarkable was her hooves never made a sound. She was so silent on their trek home, he often turned to ensure she was still following only to find her face inches from his own. So he named her Luch after the silent mice which hid in the barn.

Three small logs sufficed to cook the eggs he scavenged the day before. Having to carry his kindling through the barren plains taught him the value of shared warmth from Luch and packing an extra layer of pelts to survive the night without a fire. In this time of year and part of the world, the weather was ideal for traveling day and night. Convenient, as there was little else in the area to warrant stopping. Aside from Sciorta, the nearest village, Baile de Mairteoil, was a three day journey. The major export of Sciorta kept their obscure location thriving. Gold. An endless supply, yet no mines existed near the town.

Luch folded her legs under her and laid near the fire for Jude to lean against her tan belly.

“Alright, little mouse,” he said scratching behind her ears. “Apples? Carrots? Both?”

He dug into a satchel and produced one of each. With the knife from his boot he split the apple first, handing half to Luch. He sliced again, eating the quarter piece directly off the blade.

“I’ll stable you somewhe...

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