Authors: Gary F. Vanucci
I would like to personally thank my wife Debra, my sons Nicholas and Justin, my mother Geraldine Vanucci, my brother and sister, Greg and Gina, my brother-in-law James C, & Mike C, specifically for the encouragement you all give. And to all of the people who I know have read my works—especially those who have left reviews!—specifically Nick T. for being my wall upon which I bounce ideas and Mike C. for constantly believing in me, and I thank you both for your inspiration & ongoing encouragement! I would also like to thank many fellow authors who have given support, my peers, family, friends and fans who follow me on twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, and my blog—
Eye on Ashenclaw
. You folks are extraordinary! I would also like to thank the authors at the
Independent Author Network
who continue to aid, promote and support me without me having to ask. You people give me inspiration to carry on. I would like to give credit to those who helped me publish these books, including my artist and fellow author,
. And, as always, how can I move on without saying again, that this book and everything I do, is in remembrance and pays homage to my father…who died with the music still in him….
Gerard L. Vanucci
(May 16, 1943-March 28, 2010)
All characters, maps, logos and content in these stories are copyright © 2013 Ashenclaw Studios, LLC and Gary F. Vanucci. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means without the expressed written permission of the author.
Wothlondia Rising: The Anthology
Covenant of the Faceless Knights
Secrets of the Ebonite Mines
Legend of Ashenclaw
Tower of Torment
Gary F. Vanucci
short stories can be read in any order. They are a series in that they represent
to my debut novel, Covenant of the Faceless Knights.
specifically details the events that happen just prior to the Prologue of Covenant of the Faceless Knights while the rest of the series take place approximately twelve years prior to the novel.
Covenant of the Faceless Knights
can be purchased here:
A Rose in Bloom
Rose padded softly down the alley, keeping to the shadows until she entered the busy streets of the Entertainment District. Remaining completely unseen, she approached a merchant’s stand teeming with potential buyers. The morning was warm as she felt the sun’s rays upon her. The masses were pushing and shoving at the front of this particular kiosk that sold breads, fruits and other delightful foods, looking for the best and freshest of the bunch. She sidled up to the stand and snatched an apple and a piece of bread faster than the eye could follow, placing them into a pocket she’d sewn into her shirt. She did this as a morning ritual, choosing a different stand each day.
She took note of how the streets had become choked with a growing number of Watchmen with each day that passed. This was because Oakhaven proper was growing—especially the Trade District—and why not? The calendar year was 54 P.A. and it was beginning to take on the appearance of what it had been prior to the attacks of Ashenclaw and her dragon kin—a thriving city for trade and a suitable place to make a living, no matter what your profession. As a matter of fact, some of the local historians believed that this current variation of Oakhaven was perhaps even grander and more prosperous than any of its former manifestations.
Reports were beginning to spread around Wothlondia about the volume of people coming in and out of Oakhaven each week, purchasing homes, buildings, warehouses and the like in the Manufacturing and Trade Districts where they could buy and sell on a daily basis. A recent influx of guards, laborers, business owners and longshoreman made the rumors ring with an air of truth.
, Rose thought,
Oakhaven is a fine city!
She silently stalked away from the Entertainment District and through the Commons, which was where the homes and smaller businesses that could not afford space in the Manufacturing District were situated. It was also the seedy underbelly of Oakhaven with streets and alleyways full of beggars, thieves and muggers. Some streets were better than others, especially during the hours the sun shone down upon them, but all bets were off at night, unless the Watch happened to be passing by. Even so, the Watchmen walked in packs in the Commons and patrolled this district less often than any of the others.
As Rose made her way to the brothel, she avoided one particular place—an orphanage that harbored awful memories. She was as yet unable to face up to what that particular span had done to her over the relatively few years she’d spent upon the face of Wothlondia. She had not yet reached her sixteenth name-day, but she had many recollections from her early teens. Those memories did not elicit pleasant thoughts, nor did they bring into being a joyful childhood.
Far from it
, Rose thought bitterly.
She had been faced with a constant stream of cruelty from potential guardians in those years. Her maidenhead had been taken from her at a young age, before her thirteenth name-day if she recalled correctly, and as well she had been physically and verbally assaulted and otherwise abused. Many a step-parent, step-sibling or other keeper had mistreated her, or worse, when she’d been in their care, including the proprietor of the orphanage to whom she owed a special kind of payback.
Augustus by name, he was a well-connected man. He had frequently sent her off to a ‘guardian’ who was unfit to mother or father her properly. More than a few times, when accosted by people who should have been protecting her, Rose had had to defend herself, especially when help from the Watch or city officials did not arrive in a timely manner…or at all. Afterwards, they simply sent her back to the orphanage, too young to face any real charges, and never did they find any evidence of the ill-treatment she claimed—and this despite her obvious bruises. She had hated her time there.
She recalled partially a time when she was preparing to run away from the orphanage when the half-elven and beautiful Marielle had stepped in, coaxing the young woman from Augustus, citing her looks and offering a favorable return on investment if Rose remained unscathed.
Marielle had taken her away from Augustus that summer and Rose began her life at the bordello. It was much improved when compared to the abuse she’d endured at the orphanage, and her figure began to fill out into shapely proportions. Marielle, her Madam, assigned her a position after her fourteenth name-day as an errand girl. She would allot chores to Rose, having her handle everyday jobs, mostly involving washing and cleaning for the first half year of her stay as she was acclimatized to their ways and dealings. Rose was both athletically built and pleasing to the eye for men who enjoyed the company of a female counterpart. This was a blessing in disguise to Marielle, she’d often complimented, as Rose was a comely lass—more so than many of the other girls—and that fact lent itself well to her approaching profession.
Of course, those others couldn’t help noticing her burgeoning features and she was often shunned or otherwise mistreated.
Rose had an uncanny sleight of hand, as well as a silver tongue—both of which were a benediction and a curse. She could talk her way into, and then out of trouble, though wise cracks were bountiful and often spoken at inopportune times. She was frequently scolded by her Madam for this particular habit, though Marielle had already guessed that the lectures would not arrest Rose’s loose lips.
Rose was also discovering a certain penchant and aptitude for thievery. The thrill of pilfering goods or coin made her heart race, and she could not stop. Theft was fast becoming her drug of choice. She showed a dual acuity of both mind and body that allowed her to accomplish the deeds without being detected a single time—at least by the Watch. She was particularly well accomplished at the art of thievery, and that had attracted some unwanted attention from a certain group of organized crime persons in Oakhaven.
She’d been warned more than once about pilfering goods—including the food she stole—and that if she continued, there would be consequences. But being the brash young soul Rose was, she did not take it seriously, nor did she believe that they would catch her. So, she continued to steal, food mostly, whenever she desired. She did not have much in the way of coin and certainly could not afford the prices of the merchants here in Oakhaven, who sold their goods at inflated cost. But that wasn’t the issue. Rose filched because she could, and because she was good at it. And it didn’t hurt to have a full belly when going to the brothel in the morning, as Marielle soon had her toiling, putting her to task to complete many chores.
Her source of income had recently started to change in a favorable manner ever since a well-to-do man had begun asking for her—and her specifically—on a regular basis. Rose had spent a full year as one of Marielle’s girls now and she’d only had a few repeat customers before, but this man would request only her. The man had an affinity for redheads, she supposed at first, and he was more than kind to her, tipping her generously and never laying a hand on her unless it was to caress. He was a strikingly handsome man to boot, with eyes the color of the deepest blue sky, a neatly trimmed goatee and long, dark hair that he often wore tied back. He also boasted to her in confidence that he was in consideration for a high ranking official’s position, which, if he acquired it, she was sure would make his visits less frequent. At least publicly, she considered. There were plenty of high-profile customers who entered Marielle’s brothel, but they were treated with the utmost care and discreetness.
She knew that she should separate her personal feelings when it came to her clients, but this man was different. He stirred feelings deep inside her, especially when he looked into her eyes as no other had ever done before. His tone and words were generally soft and inviting, but they also betrayed a hidden side that was more forceful whenever the conversation turned the slightest bit quarrelsome. Mostly, he treated Rose as if she were not a prostitute, but was instead simply a woman deserving of a man’s touch and attention. He was persuasive and intelligent, knowledgeable and charming, and appeared to be smitten with the young seducer.
Her Madam, Marielle, was a very kind woman as well, especially to Rose, but was savvy and harsh when she needed to be. Marielle knew how to handle herself amongst the drunken and boorish sort that often visited her brothel. The beautiful half-elven woman favored Rose and personally took to mentoring the young lass, which the other girls observed and teased her about on a daily basis.
All these thoughts receded once she hit the short row of wooden steps leading up to the brothel’s entrance. Rose bit into the apple as she opened the door wide and then stopped as two girls moved to impede her progress.
“I’ll take that,” remarked a raven haired girl named Felicity, as she plucked the half-eaten apple from Rose’s grasp. Felicity had once been a very beautiful girl, but had not taken care of herself over the past few years, and had allowed her inward ugliness to spread outside.
“That wasn’t very nice,” remarked the other, slightly stout woman named Sabrina, her blonde hair pulled back tightly in a pony-tail. She was a striking girl with a good amount of curves, but she lacked confidence about her figure, believing herself to be overweight and unattractive. Rose had heard these admissions whispered often enough in the night, when Sabrina would cry on the shoulder of Felicity or one of the other girls, confiding in them. But Rose knew that Sabrina was naturally beautiful, with her voluptuous form and an intrinsic comeliness that needed no make-up. She was in demand at the brothel, a simple fact that contradicted her very own self-doubts.
“So nice of you to help me watch
figure,” Rose quipped slyly, emphasizing her words and tugging lightly at the threads of Sabrina’s deepest insecurity.
I can be cruel, too
, Rose thought as she turned and let her eyes fall directly onto Sabrina for a moment, before landing harshly on Felicity.
“You are certainly under The Watcher’s eye this day, my pretty, knowing I can’t rearrange that sweet little face o’ yours,” Sabrina hissed at her, throwing up a façade of bravado to mask her own diffidence.
Rose simply rolled her eyes incredulously at the comment, pushed past the both of them, and carried on down the hallway to Marielle’s quarters. Once there, she rapped on the door and waited, deciphering a shuffling in the room beyond accompanied by muffled voices.
After a moment, she heard a voice from behind the door. Rose turned the handle, opened the door ever so slightly and peered into the dimly lit room. A rather stout and now-flustered man pulled a loose sheet from the bed in an attempt to cover himself, blushing with embarrassment that began to reshape itself into anger.
The half-elven Madam was sprawled out on her bed shamelessly uncovered, her shapely body catching the minimal light that peeked in through the slight gaps of the drapes. She smiled at Rose and stretched, exuding an audacious confidence and basking in her own state of undress. Her body was smooth and the symmetry of her half-elven frame was plentiful. Marielle was more than comfortable in her natural state as she sat up and lit a candle. Her light green eyes sparkled intermittently as she blinked, and her long, dark hair framed her face perfectly. It appeared to Rose that she had been painted on the wall of the room instead of occupying its space.
“Nothing I haven’t seen before,” Rose wryly stated, standing within the threshold of the room, her words further mortifying and infuriating the man. He continued to cover himself as Rose looked to the floor, then to her Madam, and then to the floor again. Marielle gave Rose a disapproving stare and shook her head in annoyance as Rose stared up at her again. The man was a distinguished merchant in Oakhaven—Bronn was his name—and he was quite well known. He was rumored to be involved in some scandalous activities about town and also happened to be very married. Rose knew all of this, so she assumed that it was also common knowledge amongst the folk in Oakhaven, who blathered of such things nightly at the local taverns.
“This situation had best go no further!” whispered the man in a heated tone, trying to keep his voice down.
Marielle motioned her to come inside so as to avoid further discomfiture to the man. Rose rolled her eyes in reluctance but entered and shut the door as was directed.
“Whatever happens within the walls of my establishment
within and goes no further. You know our policy, Bronn,” Marielle insisted. “We have… insurance policies against such things,” she added cryptically.
Rose understood what that meant, as did Bronn, judging by the change in his expression. Marielle was well-connected in the Commons and could call upon certain undesirables, to whom she offered favors of the flesh, in return for a strong arm and a silent tongue.