Authors: Trevor H. Cooley
The Jharro Grove Saga: Part Two
Protector of the Grove
A Bowl of Souls Novel
By Trevor H. Cooley
Trevor H. Cooley
Copyright 2013 by Trevor H. Cooley
Cover art ©
The Bowl of Souls Series:
The Moonrat Saga
of the MOONRAT
Book 1.5: HILT’S PRIDE
Book Two: MESSENGER of the DARK PROPHET
Book Three: HUNT of the BANDHAM
Book Four: THE WAR of STARDEON
Book Five: MOTHER of the MOONRAT
The Jharro Grove Saga
Book Two: PROTECTOR of the GROVE
Book Three: (Upcoming 2014)
To my son, Steel. When I told him I was going to dedicate this book to him, he didn’t understand. He asked me why I would do so when he had done nothing to help in the book’s writing. It can be hard to explain to a pre-teen boy why you love him. Why he means so much to you when he is the second of your four kids.
At the end of the conversation he told me I should dedicate it to myself because I was the one who wrote it. As he walked away, I smiled. That was so Steel.
The writing of this particular book has been a crazy ride. We moved to our new home in Tennessee just after the release of Tarah Woodblade. There was a lot to get used to out on our little farm. We went the first three months without internet, had tree-downing storms, and lost an animal to fly-strike. (Don’t google it. Nasty stuff.)
Protector of the Grove is a story I have been excited to tell for some time. I have been hinting about Jhonate’s family and culture since book one and the moment when Justan finally met her father was one I had given a lot of thought to.
I hope you enjoy it. Please spread the word about the series. Life as an independent author is wonderful, but also stressful when it comes time to pay the bills. Join us on my Facebook Page and Twitter feed as well as my website, http://trevorhcooley.com/
I post constantly and try to respond to every comment.
Thank you so much,
Trevor H. Cooley
As far as winters in Dremaldria go, this was a mild one. The rubble that remained of the city of Reneul and the Battle Academy was covered in a thin blanket of snow and ice. The area was a hive of activity despite the chill. Laborers in winter clothes climbed over the site, clearing rubble and rebuilding important areas.
The workers were a mix of war refugees and tradesmen from all around Dremaldria. The mood of these people was high. The academy paid well and the rebuild was moving along far quicker than anyone had hoped. With help from Mage School wizards and the dwarves from Wobble, the structures of the new academy buildings grew at a rapid rate.
Justan ran around one completed structure at the edge of Reneul’s ruins. The long rectangular building would eventually be a town government office. For now it was just in his way as he hurried to catch up to his future wife.
“Jhonate, wait!” Justan shouted as she came into view. Jhonate wasn’t wearing her usual hide armor, but was instead dressed for the cold, with a stiff coat over a thick woolen sweater and padded leather pants. Her breath frosted in the air and her cheeks were flushed pink. With the determined way she was walking, Justan was surprised she didn’t slip. It took him several long strides to catch her. “Where are you going?”
Jhonate didn’t answer right away and he fell in at her side, noticing how tightly she gripped her staff. Justan could feel the slow burn of her anger through the Jharro ring she had given him. The gift was a precious one, for it allowed them to communicate privately over short distances. Unfortunately it also meant she could listen in on his thoughts, something that had led to many uncomfortable conversations.
Jhonate’s strides were leading them through what used to be Reneul, heading down one of the roadways that had been cleared of rubble. He was pretty sure that she was heading towards the main camp, but Justan didn’t push her, content for the moment to walk along beside her. A smile touched his lips.
She was as fierce as ever, their betrothal hadn’t changed that. Her jaw was set in determination, her lips pressed into a thin line. A smile broadened Justan’s face. Ah, but she was beautiful. Her green eyes were striking even when they were burning holes into the world around her.
Those eyes darted at him to show that she was not in the mood to be admired. “I must speak with my brothers,” she said.
“Why didn’t you just tell Sir Hilt and my father that?” Justan asked.
“Must I tell them every thing I am thinking?” she replied.
“Well, no. But you did turn and leave while Hilt was mid-sentence.”
“I was done speaking with him on the subject,” Jhonate said, but slowed down, her glare turning to a frown. “Do you think I was rude?”
“Incredibly,” Justan said, though his smile didn’t fade. Jhonate was straight forward and honest in her conversations, a trait which often led to rudeness, but those that knew her were used to it. In fact, Justan found it endearing when it wasn’t complicating things. “He did come all the way here from Malaroo to speak to you, after all.”
“Hilt came to undermine me and deliver an ultimatum,” she clarified, picking her pace back up.
Less than a half hour earlier, Justan’s father had shown up with Sir Hilt at his side to announce that the Roo-Tan people were forming an alliance with the academy. As part of the agreement Jhonate’s contract was being severed. Her father had commanded that she was to come home with Justan in tow.
“He was your father’s messenger, yes. But you know that he didn’t have to come.” Justan replied. Sir Hilt was friends with Xedrion bin Leeths, but he didn’t work for him. “The only reason Hilt would come back so quickly, leaving Beth and their baby at home, is because of the affection he feels for us both.”
They quieted for a moment as they strode past a large group of workers. The men were laboring to clear the center of Reneul where the large arena had once stood. Justan had tested to join the academy in that very arena. Little but the foundation remained now. Justan felt a shiver as he was reminded of the sheer power of the explosion that had destroyed the academy. He had been working at clearing the rubble for four months and still it affected him.
“This is the third time he has come on my father’s request to fetch me,” she replied finally. “He has reasons beyond simple affection to come all this way.”
“Maybe,” Justan said, though he didn’t know what Hilt’s other reasons could be. “Listen, I know you are upset, Jhonate, but to tell you the truth, I’m relieved. Finally we can go to your father and get this over with.”
“Get this over with?” she asked, dumbfounded. This time she stopped completely and planted her staff into the ground before turning to face him, her hands on her hips. Several workers stopped their work to observe the conversation.
“Yes,” Justan replied, not backing down despite the intensity in her eyes. “We have been betrothed for over half a year now and I’m tired of the threat of your father looming over us. Now we can face him and get on with our lives.”
“Do you think I am foolish, Edge?” Jhonate asked, her eyes narrowed at him. She usually called him Justan when they were alone, but she found it disrespectful to call him anything other than his title when in public.
“No,” Justan said slowly, realizing that he was treading a thin line.
She raised an eyebrow. “Do you consider me a coward?”
Justan winced. “Of course not. Why would you-?”
“I am well aware of how much time has gone by,” Jhonate said. “And I am also fully aware that I could have cut my contract short at any time just by asking. Each delay I have made has been deliberate.”
“Okay,” Justan said, confused at where she was going with this. As far as he had known, her contract was the only thing keeping them from traveling to Malaroo. He had assumed that her reasons for staying out the year at the academy and fulfilling her contract was out of a sense of honor.
“No!” Jhonate said and Justan was reminded that her close proximity to him allowed her to sense his thoughts through the ring. “My original purpose for coming here was brought to an honorable conclusion months ago.”
“Then why have we been waiting?” Justan wondered. Everyone seemed so fearful of her father’s wrath.
She turned and strode forward again.
I have not delayed out of a fear of my father!
Justan scratched his head and followed. Why hadn’t she talked to him about this earlier? Why couldn’t she just come out and declare her reasons instead of keeping them bottled up for so long?
“There is still just so much that needs to be done,” she said.
Justan still had no idea what she was talking about, but he let it go for now. If they were traveling all the way to Malaroo, there would be plenty of time for talk along the road.
Where are you going
? Gwyrtha asked through the bond. The rogue horse sounded confused. Justan sensed that she was still back at the work site where he had left her and there was a bit of a commotion. He sensed laughter around her as well as frantic cries.
Gwyrtha, why is someone beating you about the head
? he asked.
This old elf is tired of riding
. Gwyrtha replied with a very un-horselike chuckle.
Justan rolled his eyes.
Then let him down, for goodness’ sake
! When he had last seen her, Yntri Yni had been clinging to her mane for dear life as she galloped past. Justan felt guilty for letting her continue her little joke. The elf truly was ancient; little more than wrinkles and bones. Surely such a rough ride wasn’t good for him.
He is stronger than he looks
, Gwyrtha replied, but she slowed down enough that Yntri was able to leap down. She sent Justan an image of the elf tumbling quickly to his feet and shaking his fist at her, all the while berating her in his language of clicks and whistles. Gwyrtha chuckled again.
This elf really likes me
Justan sighed. She had changed a lot over the last few months, her mind sharpening quickly as if, by learning to transform her own body, she had somehow overcome some great hurdle in her development.
Be nice. I’ll get back to you later
She sent him an irritated grunt.
I’ll see if Hilt wants to ride then
Justan turned his attention back to Jhonate. He had fallen a few steps behind her and hurried to catch up. “You have to admit that this alliance between the Roo-Tan and the academy is a good thing.”
“Perhaps.” Jhonate’s brow furrowed. “I would never have believed father would agree to such a thing. At least not so quickly. My contract with the academy was a starting point, but I had imagined that, even with steady negotiations, our children would be fully grown before my people consented to an alliance with outsiders.”
Justan stumbled. “Uh, how many children did you expect we would have?” She didn’t answer the question.
They were quickly approaching the main camp. It sat at the base of what used to be the academy’s main gate and consisted of a long cluster of winterized tents and hastily constructed buildings. Smoke rose into the air from hundreds of cook fires and burning piles of scrap.
The partially-built walls of the academy rose high above the camp. Stoneworkers set large blocks of stone hewn from nearby quarries into place while wizards runed the completed sections with earth and fire magic. The dwarves and wizards had approved the plans together and everyone was confident that the new academy would be far superior to the old one.
Soon they were at the barracks; a long hall erected by the wizards when they had first arrived at the site. The building was two stories tall, its walls made from stone pulled up from the ground directly beneath it. The different coloration of the various layers of strata in the walls made it stand out from the buildings built by regular means.
Jhonate spoke to a guard and was directed to the room on the second floor where their new guests were housed. They headed up right away, but Jhonate stopped Justan just outside the wooden door at the top of the stairs.
“Before we enter there are things we should discuss,” Jhonate said, her eyes focused.
“Okay,” Justan replied.
She pointed a finger at his chest as she spoke. “I have things to say to my brothers and you are not to interfere. I wish I could ask you not speak to them at all, but unfortunately my brothers are likely to ask you questions.”
Justan smiled and shook his head. “You’re that worried about what I might say?”
“My people can be . . . prickly. It will be all too easy for you to say something that could offend them or bring down my father’s ire.”
“Jhonate, I have spent enough time around you to learn how to deal with someone ‘prickly’,” Justan said.
“That may be true, but I am easy to talk to in comparison,” Jhonate replied and Justan frowned at the implications. She added, “My siblings do not like the way my father dotes on me. They have often enjoyed finding ways to make him angry with me in the past.”
“Very well,” Justan said. “Then why don’t you just use the ring?”
“Yes. If they ask me a question, simply tell me what to say to them,” he explained. “That way I won’t offend.”
Her eyebrows rose and she gave him an approving nod. “I had not thought of that. It is a good idea, Justan.”
“Thanks,” he said. She still had much to learn about the way their connection could be used.
Jhonate opened the door and they stepped in to a wide open room. The first half of the floor was taken up by rows of bunks and small chests where the academy soldiers could store their goods. Most of the soldiers were out working but there were multiple guard shifts during the day and several men were sitting at their bunks in various stages of undress. A few smiled as Jhonate brazenly strode through, but the ones that recognized her scrambled to cover themselves. Some of them saluted Justan. He smiled and nodded in return.
At the end of the main room was a short hall leading to the officer’s quarters. The rooms were small and consisted of little more than what the rest of the soldiers were given, but at least there was a bit of privacy. Jhonate’s brothers were being housed in the back, for the time being, in rooms that were held for visitors. These were more spacious, but just as starkly furnished.
Jhonate moved to the last door on the right and knocked. It opened a moment later and a tall man answered the door. He looked slightly older than her, but Justan could tell right away that he was one of Jhonate’s brothers. He had the same long black hair and his braids were interwoven with green ribbons, though they were pulled back from the side of his face in a different style than Jhonate’s. He wore an academy-standard winter coat but looked uncomfortable in it. The laces in the front were tied unevenly.
His chiseled face formed a frown. “There you are, sister lost.”
“Fullbrother Jhexin,” she said, returning his look. “Are you the best father would send?”
She strode past him into the room. Three other men were inside sitting on cots, each of them wearing similar clothing as the first.
Jhonate raised an eyebrow. “Qurl and Xendrol. I thought this was a joke before, but now I see that father is serious about this.”