Here's something that I've had on the market for a few years now. Prisoner of Time was my second published novel, and it is certainly one of my under-appreciated works. This is the sequel to Virtual Wiles, and it is in this book that Morgan Asher really comes into his own. The character development is undeniable, and it set the stage for the subsequent novel, The Guns of Mars.
In this sneak peek, we're going to look at a funny scene with a couple of our supporting characters, the amnestic traveler and his elven companion, Alvaris. Here we see them on the move after running away from a cult of bloodthirsty monks, and the consequences of what happens when you try to pull a fast one on the wrong people:
After several hours of travel, they came to a stop at the edge of a village. The stone and brick buildings with slate roofs were common throughout the region, and it was hard to distinguish one town from another at a glance.
The small hamlet was eerily quiet at mid-morning, which gave the traveler and his elven companion reason to pause.
"I believe this is the town those monks snatched me from yesterday," Alvaris mentioned, trying to make out familiar structures in the cramped village.
"Any chance of finding a decent shoemaker nearby?" the traveler asked, brushing dirt from his bleeding feet.
"I would rather not make contact with any of the locals, not after what they did the last time," Alvaris replied. "I may be cocky, but I am not stupid."
"I can't go on like this," the man replied. "Like it or not, I've got to find something to wear."
"And exactly how are you going to pay for this footwear?"
"What about that pendant?" he asked, pointing at the hidden pocket in Alvaris' tunic.
"Are you daft? Without my pendant you would not understand a word I say, unless you're hiding a degree in neolatin."
"There must be something we can use."
"If I had anything of value to spare, I would not hesitate to use it," Alvaris mentioned. "Unfortunately, the monks stripped me bare, and I do not see that white robe that you are wearing as being of any particular value."
A thought suddenly passed through the traveler's mind. The last sentence Alvaris had uttered struck like lightning, giving rise to a desperate scheme that could prove quite fruitful, or utterly disastrous.
"Stay here," the traveler said, staggering out of the bushes, trying to walk on the wounded feet.
Alvaris didn't know what he had in mind, but felt certain it would be the death of them both.
The traveler found the smooth stones of the road to be more comfortable on the feet than rough dirt and twigs, which allowed him to walk upright and keep a blank look on his face, as he marched into town.
There wasn't much activity, but a few of the inhabitants were moving around, hauling cartloads of wood and straw with ponies. The locals gave sheepish stares at the man as he walked by, as if frightened by his presence.
Looking around at the handful of structures, the man tried to spot a shoemaker's sign, but there was none. If there were a shop that sold footwear, it wasn't clearly advertised.
A few more people went by, on their way to whatever private business they had, and the traveler began staring down at their feet, studying the crudely stitched leather moccasins everyone wore in this neck of the woods. They all had such dainty feet in town. It was frustrating.
Eventually, a scruffy man appeared from around a corner, and his neatly-polished black boots glistened in the sunlight. The glossy leather appeared to be the right size.
"Halt in the name of the Holy Sword!" the nameless man shouted, freezing the scruffy guy dead in his tracks.
"Yeah? Whadda you want?" the scruffy man asked in a defiant tone. Although his height and build were relatively small, he didn’t appear feeble to say the least.
"Your boots," the traveler said, trying to keep his voice monotone and emotionless.
"What'ja got to trade for 'em?" the scruffy man asked, placing a hand on his hip and spitting on the ground.
The scruffy man huffed. "You dirty monks think you own this town, but you've got something else coming."
"The Lord shall greatly reward you for your generous sacrifice," the traveler added, feeling his ruse was backfiring.
"Really?" the scruffy man asked cynically. Despite his defiance, he knelt down and unlaced his boots. He pulled them off his feet and proceeded to chuck them at the nameless man imitating a monk. "Here. They'll be good fer yer funeral."
After nonchalantly grabbing the boots, the traveler started to walk backwards, keeping his oval eyes locked on the scruffy man. After he felt he was a safe distance away, he turned and ran.
Turning a corner into a cramped side street, he ducked behind a stack of hay bales and slid his feet into the pilfered boots. They were a little wide, but sufficiently long. He tightened the laces and wiggled his toes, utterly pleased with himself and his pilfered prize.
Ready to get moving, the traveler moved to make his way out of the cluttered side street, but was halted by a sudden commotion. A wild clattering and clacking arose on the street outside, the sound of many wheels and hooves beating against the stone pavement.
Ducking behind the hay, he glanced out and saw the way ahead blocked by several horses. Peeking back the other way, he saw a block wall laid, making it a dead-end. He was trapped.
"Come on outta there, you blasted monk!" a gritty voice sounded, the tone barely audible over the continued noise of the wheels and horses.
Somehow, the traveler doubted he could talk his way out of his current predicament, but there was no harm in trying. "Monk? Me? I'm afraid you must have me mistaken for someone else."
A twang sounded, and a moment later the stack of hay shook and hissed, as an arrow sank deeply into the tightly packed bale. "We'll come in and get ya, so ya might as well give it up," the gritty voice replied.
Seeing no alternative, the nameless man reluctantly surrendered, raising his hands and stepping out from behind the hay bales. He stared forward, and felt a dozen sets of eyes lock onto him.
"I'm unarmed," the traveler said loudly, as he walked forward, his arms upraised.
The man with the gritty voice mumbled something to the men around him, and a pair of them walked down the cramped side street to meet the traveler. They sidled up and grabbed him by both arms, almost carrying him the rest of the way, and shoving him to the ground in front of their leader.
"Get up!" the gritty voice demanded.
Staggering to his feet, the traveler looked up at the man who spoke with such authority. The haggard face, with wrinkles like rivers and a bulbous nose, was something only a mother could love, if even that. Of course, the week’s worth of black stubble on his chin only accentuated his coarse looks.
Grabbing the traveler's lower jaw, the gritty man gave him a once over, turning his head from side to side, trying to find something of interest or familiarity. He eventually pulled his hand away, and returned it to the hilt of the sword at his hip.
"Now, you take off those boots," the gritty man ordered.
The traveler knelt down and unlaced the newly acquired footwear, his fingers shivering nervously as they picked at the knots.
"You're no monk," the gritty man said with certainty.
"No," the traveler said, pulling the left boot off his foot.
"It's a damn shame the state o' the world today," a different voice sounded. It was the man whose boots had been stolen, stepping forward from the crowd. "Nothin' much lower'n a scumbag who'd impersonate one of those devil worshipping monks to get a handout."
The traveler kept quiet as he removed the right boot and gave the pair to their former owner. He felt it would take too long to explain his predicament, and the mob didn't seem to be in a talking mood.
"Now, you tell the man you're sorry," the gritty guy said.
"I'm sorry," the traveler said faintly, feeling terrified.
"Like you mean it," the gritty man said condescendingly.
"I'm sorry, okay? I'm sorry I tried to con you. I didn't feel I had a choice."
"There's always a choice," the owner of the boots replied.
"What do you say we do to him?" the gritty man asked the owner of the boots.
"Kill him," the boot owner replied, kneeling down to lace up his footwear.
"Well, you heard the man," the gritty guy replied, drawing his sword.
The traveler stumbled backwards, and fell on his rump. "You can't kill a guy over a pair of boots. What kind of law is that?"
"It's the law of the road, bub. We're Charioteers. Somebody does one of us wrong, the wronged picks the punishment. The man says you die, then we oblige."
"You're some kind of criminal gang?" the traveler said, scooting backwards on his behind. "You can't kill a man in cold blood like this. What will the local authorities think?"
"The townies are a bunch of cowards, and they'll have no problem with us killing somebody masquerading as one of their precious spiritual leaders," the gritty man said, pointing the tip of his sword in the traveler's face.
Staring up along the blade's edge, the traveler felt there was no escape. He'd known the risks, and the odds had bested him this day. As he awaited the sword to be pushed forward and conclude his virtual life, he said, "The monks will thank you for doing their dirty work for them."
"What's that?" the gritty man asked.
Sensing an opportunity, the traveler jumped at it. "The monks want me dead. If you kill me, you're playing right into their hands."
"Bull!" the owner of the boots shouted. "Get it over with."
"Why do you think I'm stuck in this robe? The monks stripped me of everything, my clothes, my possessions, even my memories. They tried to turn me into one of them, but I escaped, beat their brainwashing. I pissed them off, so they want me dead a whole lot more than you ever could."
The blade remained pointed at the traveler's face for a long period of silence, as the gritty man considered all the evidence. His brown eyes stared widely, uncertain of what action to take. Finally, the blade was taken away, and the sword slid back into its sheath at the man's side.
"Get up," the gritty man said.
The traveler complied, and managed to get on his feet again, despite the shiver in his muscles that told him to collapse.
"Now, take that robe off," the gritty man ordered.
"But I'm naked under it," the traveler replied, feeling less than eager at the thought of becoming a naturalist in the cold, spring air.
"Drop it!" the gritty man shouted, gripping the hilt of his sword. "You're not gonna pull another stunt like this anywhere else."
Seeing he had no alternative, the traveler untied the two straps near his waist and slid off the robe, exposing his pale skin to the elements.
"Now, which way are you intent on going?" the gritty man asked, grabbing the white robe. He balled it up and chucked it at the small crowd behind him who cut it to shreds with their blades.
"I'm heading east, for the coast," the traveler said, feeling chills as the fifty degree air nipped at his bare skin.
"All right," the gritty man said, turning sideways and waving his arm at the crowd. In response to his arm's movement, the crowd moved to one side, making a path back to the main road. "My men and I will escort you through town, and get you on your way, as you are."
Taking the gritty man up on his offer, the traveler began walking, moving at a slow and steady pace through the parted crowd, back onto the spacious street near the center of town. He kept moving, hearing the crowd slowly move with him, their horses and chariots clacking and rattling against the pavement. Moving down the street, he saw people staring out their windows at him. It was a most humiliating experience.
The eastern edge of town came up quickly, and the Charioteers behind him kept pushing forward, moving him along the road as it turned from stone to dirt. The march didn't end until they were almost a mile into the country, beside a cattle-filled pasture.
Calling everyone to a halt, the gritty man stepped back in front of the traveler. "This is far enough, I think. I expect you can find your way from here. Now, you just keep walking until you hit the coast, and we won't kill you."
"It must be my lucky day," the traveler said.
The Charioteers turned around swiftly and headed back toward the town, leaving the naked traveler alone on the road, buck naked, surrounded by pasture land, wholly uncertain of what was to come next.
If this sample has piqued your interest, be sure to buy a copy from my AuthorStore, or visit the amazon.com link posted above.