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First pages

Chapter 1: Sing a Song of the Future Foretold

“I see death,” warned the flabby barbarian woman who stank of too much wild rose perfume. Like all barbarians, she was tall, at least twice as tall as a halfling like me. I wasn’t fool enough to discount her warning completely because everyone knew barbarians dabbled with dark, mystical forces which we civilized folk did not understand. Who knows what she really saw?

This hulking woman had a tattoo of a minuscule locust just to one side of her eye. Her sun-baked face was gazing into the tea mug on my table as she continued, “Yes, death! But fear not. My son Haidir can provide you with a talisman of warding. They are most powerful!”

Should I tell her? I asked myself. Sure, why not. “That’s not mine.”

“Eh?”

“I’ve been trying to get the waiter’s attention.” I held up my bottle of half-beer. “This is my drink. The tea was served here by accident.”

The barbarian looked confused and then enraged. She straightened, shrieked at the help and sent one of the harassed servers scurrying to remove the tea and to deliver to a nearby table, at which sat a 4-foot-tall, spindly gnome.

The gnome’s nervous, hatchet face looked familiar, but upon my life, I couldn’t place him. He was wearing a gray homespun pullover shirt, gray trousers, and tattered burgundy-colored slippers with curled up toes. The gnome glanced up at the newly delivered tea, thanked the waiter, and sipped hesitantly, looking even more nervous. I wondered if anyone was going to tell him that he was doomed.

The setting sun had turned the western sky blood red and fiery orange. Workers began moving around, lighting smoky torches. The “walls” around our eating area consisted of beautifully woven barbarian carpets hung from long ropes. Their geometric designs were a wonder. Our “ceiling” was the open sky. The first few frozen stars made their bashful appearances. Sirocco’s was just inside the city gates, and we could hear the bellowed military orders as the guards were changed.

Near the entrance to the eatery, vertical roasting spits turned legs of beef and lamb. This is where I’d gave the barbarians the coupon which I’d found earlier. They’d cut off some juicy strips of meat, had put them on a piece of flat bread along with some bitter goat cream, sautéed onions, and freshly chopped tomatoes and had served it up next to some fried potato spears dusted in paprika. I’d chosen a half-beer, and then had sat a table in a corner to enjoy my free dinner. The lamb, as was lamb’s way, had a strong, woody flavor which was wrestled into submission by the bitter goat cream and sautéed onions. The finely chopped tomatoes added a dash of happiness to the dish.

If I weren’t a firm believer that the gods had abandoned us, I might have seen them at work here. For example, at a time when I lacked the funds necessary even to flip a coin, a gust of wind had plastered around my ankle the coupon for a free meal here at Sirocco’s. So tonight I got to eat.

I’d just come from a meeting with the High Priestess of the Elves. Sister Nadiel wanted to retain my services to memorialize in song their latest epic adventure. This commission should have poured wealth into my pocket, allowing me to eat anywhere. Steeped in goodness, she should have readily assented to the standard terms of payment for a bard: half up front, half upon completion. But Sister Nadiel had refused, insisting I complete the first movement of the saga before she’d make the first progress payment. And so my grinding poverty meant I had no choice but to eat here. Yes, the gods (if any remained) were herding me, but why was anyone’s guess.

I ate my dinner probably faster than I should have, then reached into my satchel, and extracted my thumb harp. I toyed with it, plucking out the first tentative notes of my saga for Sister Nadiel. But the song wouldn’t come. It slithered away from my imagination like a square of butter across a hot frying pan. Years of experience had taught me this was a sign I was doing something fundamentally wrong. I plucked my thumb harp again, trying to tease out what the fatal flaw in my approach was.

Nearby, the barbarian family’s teenage son ignored my playing and began plucking a familiar tune out of one of their exotic stringed instruments. A gush of suddenly chilled air rushed across the clearing, bullied a few of the torches, and was just as quickly gone. Acrid smoke from the torches tried to chase after the wind but soon gave up, returning to a lazy upwards drift. The tinny notes of my thumb harp had no chance against this lad’s actual musical instrument, and so I gave up.

Even for a barbarian, this teen was a brutish thing, and his thick fingers stumbled against each other as he played. He had a nasty, ragged scar down the left side of his face. I wouldn’t want to meet him in a dark alley.

“That note should be an ‘A’,” I informed him after the third time in a row he misplayed it.

He snorted in derision. “I’ve been playing this song for over a year. I think I know what the notes are,” he snarled.

“I wrote that song,” I replied. “I think I know what the notes are.”

His fingers kept playing, but his mind churned. “You’re Stratford Small?”

I nodded. “My friends call me ‘Ford.’ Here, hand it over.” He gave me the instrument, and I was able to pluck out the correct version on the unfamiliar device. When I finished, I have it back to him.

He nodded. “Now I see what you were up to,” he murmured, and he copied my playing.” When the song ended, he asked, “So you know Stonewall Hearth?”

“Quite well.”

A too-tall barbarian interrupted us. “I’m Sirocco,” he said. “I own this place.” He was tall, even for a barbarian, swarthy of course, and dangerously handsome. A topknot of black hair danced this way and that above his head. With city living, his huge muscles were beginning to turn to fat. Sirocco smiled a surprisingly charming smile for a barbarian. “My son Haidar and I have a wager on whether Stonewall Hearth is real or not.” Both the father and his son wore identical goat-skin vests over long-sleeve, coarsely woven shirts, rugged trousers and desert sandals. The teen had a thatch of black hair whose fondest desire was to someday see a comb.

“Oh, he’s quite real,” I replied.

“Yet you must admit that some of the things he’s reported to have done are superhuman.”

“Superhuman? No. Heroic certainly, but he’s quite human.”

Cogwright! my brain suddenly screamed. That was the name of the nervous little gnome! Lennon . . . Lennox Cogwright. Something like that. I knew him through Hearth. Cogwright was one of those artificers, and Hearth had purchased a couple of clever devices from him. So, was anybody going to tell the gnome of his foredoomed tea-leaves reading or not? The poor wretch was already squirming with a collection of nervous twitches. Bah, the woman’s warning was most likely just a pile of tripe.

“Are you here to see my sister?” asked Haidar, still plucking on his whatever-it-was.

I must have made a face.

“Everyone comes to see my sister. She’s quite the . . . quite the . . . She brings in the customers.”

Did I really want to know what his sister did to do that? I shrugged off his comment. “I’m only here for the food.” I went back to working on my song, but it refused to solidify. I could sense it, like some invisible vapor just beyond my eyesight, but every phrase I wrote, every word, every note, was painfully wrong.

This was no good.

Both Hearth and I were flat broke. He may have been Thunderhead City’s most celebrated private detective, but he’d taken too many hard-luck cases for free lately. Now he was out of money, behind on rent, and we were facing eviction. Songs of his exploits were still sung all over the city, songs which had been written by me, but I had not actually sold so much as a half-note lately. Yes, I now had a soon-to-be-paying commission, yet inspiration (and the money it would bring) eluded me, more shy than a damsel at her first school dance. I needed to write something to sell, maybe I couldn’t produce enough to cover our back rent, but I should be able to put some food on our table.

I needed a happy song. People like happy songs. They’d shell out good coin for one. And so, I practically forced my fingers to play some happy notes. I asked myself: What did we have to be happy about? For weeks, maybe even months, we’d been just one step ahead of bill collectors, and lately we’d been stumbling while they’d been running faster. Hearth and I didn’t have a whole lot. Indeed, all we had was nothing, and lots of that.

We sure got a whole lot of nothin’. As I played the notes on my thumb harp, I heard the words as clearly as if someone had sung them. I paused in delighted surprised and then pushed on. We don’t got a big ol’ house. Ugh, that was a terrible word. What rhymed with house: louse, grouse, mouse? Where was the happiness in those words? Let’s try instead: We don’t have a mansion grand. Oh yeah. I took out paper, quill, and ink. I pushed aside the empty dishes and began writing:

#

We Sure got a Whole Lot of Nothin’

#

We don’t have a mansion grand.

We don’t have wealth at our command.

We don’t even have cash on hand.

Oh no,

We sure got a whole lot of nothin’.

#

Prize horses, meals with seven courses,

Silver and gold, riches untold,

That’s not what we got. We got naught for our pot.

Oh no,

We sure got a whole lot of nothin’.

#

Do we have fine art? No, no!

Did we get a head start? No, no!

Dining a la carte? No, no!

Oh no,

We sure got a whole lot of nothin’.

#

We don’t got no jewelry or gems,

Or fancy cloaks with fur-lined hems.

We don’t have a group of snooty friends.

Oh no,

We sure got a whole lot of nothin’.

#

China dishes, caviar from fishes,

Our own private island, an eye-popping diamond.

That’s not what we got. We got naught for our pot.

Oh no,

We sure got a whole lot of nothin’.

#

Do we have rare books? No, no!

Butlers, maids, and cooks? No, no!

Dazzling good looks? No, no!

Oh no,

We sure got a whole lot of nothin’.

#

There’s nothin’ for me, and nothin’ for you.

It gets smaller still, when we cut it in two.

When we get less, don’t know what we will do.

Oh no,

We sure got a whole lot of nothin’.

#

Smiling with pride, I powdered my still-wet ink, blew off the excess, shoved everything back into my satchel, and thought about starting my long walk home.

“Ladies and gentlemen!” bellowed the flabby barbarian woman. Her dark, multi-layered clothing careened around her bloated body like an untamed whirlwind. “Tonight, Sirocco’s is proud to present for your pleasure, our finest gem! The beauty for whom you’ve all been waiting with such impatience! My daughter! The lovely! The dazzling! Blessed of all the gods! The incomparable! Sadira!” In a half bow, the fat barbarian backed out of the flattened patch of earth to be replaced by . . . a temptress!

Slender, lithe, sinuous, Sadira leapt out onto the flattened earth wearing nothing but a tiny sequined vest, a gossamer 13-panel skirt belted with coins, another band of coins holding back her raven waist-length hair, and yet more coins adorning her exposed throat. Her smile was as broad and as bright as the sun. She was amazingly tall--if I’d have wanted to steal a kiss, I’d have had to stand on my own shoulders. Sadira looked like a desert goddess. Her feet were bare and skipped lightly over the flattened earth as she danced. Her long, café-au-lait legs played peek-a-boo out of the panels of her skirt. Her arms, naked except for their bangles, were outstretched for balance. Slender fingers extended upwards.

The crowd, mostly males, went crazy, cheering, whistling, and stamping their boots.

The barbarians’ exotic instruments twanged, and their hand drums pounded out a staccato beat.

Sadira’s exposed belly rippled in a way which seemed impossible. Her muscle control was phenomenal. After a series of ripples, her bosom leaped upwards a good four inches. More belly wiggles were followed by a trio of bosom leaps, yet her shoulders never moved.

The drums’ staccato beat seemed to freeze her in place, except for her stomach, which vibrated along with the drums. Her hips swayed back and forth as she turned. Then one hand flew up behind her head, the other was extended forward for balance, and her whole body twisted back and forth violently, as the crowd hooted with delight.

Her smile grew wider at their response.

One hand flew out and she spun, her long hair being flung out to its full extent. She was facing the audience, twitching her hips, rippling her belly, and with seemingly no effort, causing her bosom to leap up and down. The dance seemed to jump from body part to body part: first hips, then belly, then breasts. Her hips moved one way; her upper torso the other; and then back again.

Rapid knocks came from a drum. She backed up, her loins dancing to the frantic beat. Her arms stretched out and she threw herself into a spin, her rounded bottom trailing behind so that when the spin stopped, the curve of her hips would be emphasized. The skirt panels fell away to reveal bare legs. She swung back around the other way, her arms outstretched, her long hair flying, her bottom trailing again so she could end with her hips cocked to one side. Her arms climbed into the air with her hands bending back down to form a large heart shape. The wild swinging of her hips was replaced by tightly controlled twitches.

Now, with arms outstretched, she was skipping over the bare earth. Men clapped and cheered, which again got a broad smile from her.

She came around behind me and mimicked the beating of the drum by slapping her fingers on top of my bald head. The crowd laughed. I blushed. Sadira caressed her fingers down the sides of my face, along my chubby shoulders, and then over my ribcage. It tickled, and I squirmed. She bent down and pressed her writhing nubile body up against my back, wiggling, rubbing, inflaming the crowd but only embarrassing me. Her moonflower perfume befuddled my senses.

I felt her fingers in the pocket of my vest. “Keep this safe for me,” she whispered in my ear. Her fingers twitch, pressing something into my ribs, making sure I knew it was there. She kissed my bald head, and then, into my other ear, she repeated, “Keep this safe.”

Then she spun away, pelvis thrusting, hands and arms again forming the heart shape over her head. Her arms fell. She spun in a half turn, and then danced back to the flattened patch of earth.

My breath came as hot and as dry as a desert wind in my throat. Usually, I am impervious to the charms of beautiful women, but her sensuousness and untamed spirit got to me. It would have been easy for even a too short, too fat, too bald, citified halfling like me to become too much of a fool for this feral seductress. I fingered the outline of the object she’d left in my vest pocket. It was heart-shaped with a tiny bulge in the center. What was her game?

Suddenly, there came a deep bellow of outrage and a squeak of terror. I turned to see the barbarian lad Haidar bowling Cogwright across the eatery floor. The little gnome crashed into my table, sending the table flying one way, me another, and the gnome a third.

That did it! I had had a wretched day ending an abysmal month. In the single beat of a hummingbird’s wing, I was up on my feet and was nose-to-navel with Haidar, ready for a fight!

“I’m going to pay!” squealed Cogwright from behind me. “I never said I wasn’t going to pay.”

The barbarian youth halted his rampage, and that stopped me as well.

“See?” whimpered the gnome. “See? Here’s the money!”

“Hand it over,” rumbled Haidar.

A small bag of coins was passed over my head. The barbarian opened it and counted. Then he grunted and passed back a barbaric talisman of some kind. What kind of silly superstition was going on here?

“Thank you!” gasped the gnome. “Oh, thank you!” Then he turned and hurried into the night.

Chapter 2: Sing of a Lady in Lilac

I was up early the next morning, donned my winter coat and bowler hat, and was out the front door as a frozen dawn crept up over Thunderhead City. Gusty winds swept along the streets like caresses from soul-hungry banshees. I still lacked the money to rent a carriage, and so I made the long walk through the crooked and narrow streets to the house of my music publisher.

As I walked along, I crammed my finger into my vest pocket and rousted out that something which Sadira had secreted there the night before. This wasn’t the first time I had examined it, but it was still only a charm. I mean, it looked like a charm. It didn’t look any different now than it had last night. It was heart-shaped and appeared to be made from gold, but it was way too light. So, it was probably a gilded bit of tin or zinc. Foreign writing was stamped into its surface, and in its center was embedded what appeared to be a diamond. If you’re going to gild a tin charm, you’re not going to put a real diamond there, and so this was undoubtedly cut glass.

I examined the charm for awhile and again learned absolutely nothing about it. By then, I reached the brooding house of my music publisher. I put the charm back in my pocket and rang the front doorbell.

The mastiff’s bark roared with indignation. After a moment, I heard my publisher’s muttered curses approach the door, and it squeaked open. At first, I could see only one eyeball. Then he recognized me, kicked his dog aside, and opened the door. “It’s a little early, don’t ya think, Ford?” He was a threadbare orc.

Ever since the Raven’s Plague had ravished Thunderhead City, killing off thousands of humans and almost all of the city’s gnomes and druids, alien races such as orcs, barbarians, and night elves had been crowding into the abandon houses and shops.

“I have something for you,” I gushed. “It couldn’t wait!”

“Sure it could,” he grumbled. He used his foot to shove his gigantic dog even further back as he snapped at the mastiff, “What are you on about? You know Ford.”

“Take a look at this,” I said, handing over “We Sure got a Whole Lot of Nothin’.”

It was too early in the morning for the orc. He rubbed the sleep out of his eye, took my song, read it, stopped dead, began reading it again, and then hurried across his shadowy parlor to his harpsichord. He pulled open long and heavy curtains to let in the morning light so he could read the music, and using his out-of-tune harpsichord, fingered the first few notes. Then he turned his ugly face to me. “I suppose you want to be paid for this?”

“That’s the general idea.”

He nodded and trudged out into his kitchen. I followed. He removed the head from off of his pig-shaped cookie jar (as if anything containing sugar would ever pass that sour mouth of his), reached in, and took out a poke of coins. He removed a few of the coins, dropped them loose back into the cookie jar, and tossed me the poke itself. It weighed more than I had anticipated.

I checked inside to make sure it wasn’t all just coppers, but there were a surprising number of silver coins in there too. This wasn’t enough money to cover our back rent, but Hearth and I would be able to eat for many days. He went back out into his living room, slid open a desk drawer and took out a pre-printed form. He filled in the date and the title “We Sure got a Whole Lot of Nothin’,” and gave it to me to sign. The sale price was “for valuable consideration.”

I signed but couldn’t help but give him a curious look. Orcs are not generous creatures. Nor are music publishers generous creatures. With an orcan music publisher, it was a foregone conclusion that I would be getting a very small slice of the pie. I always stuck with him though because he excelled at bringing in very large pies. My sliver was more than enough to keep me happy. However, there was no rational explanation for the amount of money in this poke.

“You’re having tough times, I know,” he sneered. “I need to keep you going so that I can rob you later. Now, get out of here. I’m sick of looking at you.”

So I left.

I hurried to the agora, where I stocked up on necessary groceries, and, renting a carriage, trotted proudly back to Candlestick Lane.

I was just finishing putting the food away when someone rapped heavily on our front door. I made my way back through the house as the caller rapped a second time. Glancing at the clock on the mantle, which showed it was not yet 9 o‘clock, I opened the door.

An unfamiliar barbarian stood there, taller than the doorjamb. Even in the cold, he wore a sleeveless leather vest, lightweight trousers, and a giant scimitar. His face was heavily tattooed, his head was shaved except for a sweeping topknot, and his fierce eyes were as dark as thunderclouds. Suspiciously, he peered inside. Satisfied that a befuddled halfling posed little danger, he stepped aside.

The lady behind him wore a long skirt of lilac silk, covering slender legs. I raised my eyes to see hips sensuously flared, a honeybee-thin waist cinched with a woven gold belt, and a chest which looked as if she were smuggling a pair of grapefruit inside her burgundy and lilac print blouse. A swanlike neck. She had a tiny, delicate chin and lilac lips which were made for kissing. She had an adorable nose. Her eyes were large, blue, and luminescent. Delicate, pale skin glowed with good health, with her chestnut hair sporting a perky cut. Those tiny diamond earrings had to be real.

Then she opened that most perfect of all mouths and said the stupidest thing that any woman had said, ever, anywhere in the world. The stupidest!

“Master Hearth?” she asked. “Stonewall Hearth?”

As if a short, rotund, bald halfling could possibly be the legendary Stonewall Hearth! I shook my head. “No, I am not he.”

“I know,” she smiled oh-so-gently. “I meant, is Master Hearth in?”

“Oh, I believe so. Tell me your name, and I’ll announce you.” Where did that come from? I never had used the verb “announce” in all my life. I wasn’t a bloody butler!

“Lady Jane Cork.”

I nodded and turned back inside.

“Who is it?” Stonewall Hearth was descending the oak staircase. He, as always, looked majestic. His coiffeur was perfect. His posture was perfect. His suit was perfect. He filled it out with broad shoulders and a well-muscled torso. His shirt was whiter than milk from a virgin cow. His extravagant cravat was breath-taking. He was a strikingly handsome man with a chiseled face, black hair, and piercing dark eyes. Hearth’s only flaw was a slight limp, which resulted in him carrying a well-polished mahogany walking stick. He had a second flaw as well. Sometimes he was too perfect. He could come across as staged, as phony. Some people found this annoying. Sometimes, even I found him so. Yet, he was one of the finest human beings I’d ever come across.

“Lady Jane Cork,” I informed him.

He smiled with his whiter-than-white teeth. “Do come in, Lady Jane.”

“I hate to bother you,” she began, “. . . but I understand you help people who are in trouble.”

“Yes, yes. Come in. Please!” He beckoned her forwards.

As she stepped past into the anteroom, I was mesmerized by ever-changing perfume. It began as fresh fruit and raspberries, drifted into the fragrance of roses and then hinted at vanilla.

Her barbaric companion had to scrunch down in order to enter.

Bringing up the rear was a stocky, matronly, halfling female, dressed all in beige, whom I hadn’t noticed before. This halfling looked as if she been built using various sized of ice cream scoops. Her head was spherical. Her shoulders were spherical. Her breasts were spherical. Her belly was spherical. Her hips were spherical. Her little hands were spherical. If her legs could have figured out how to function if they’d have been spheres, they would have been spherical too. When she’d passed, I noticed her mouse-colored hair was done up into a spherical bun and, surprise of surprises, her buttocks were also spherical. She could have used a shower.

I glanced outside and spotted a beardless, young druid tending to a two-horse carriage. Candlestick Lane wasn’t the widest, and so he’d parked his carriage half onto the walkway which, in front of our house, paralleled the lane.

Lady Jane was hesitating. “You are Stonewall Hearth, aren’t you?”

He beamed. “Indeed I am. And this is my bard, Ford.”

Would it have killed him to say my proper name: Stratford Small? Would it have been too lousy much trouble?! And I am no man’s bard. I go where I want and sing of whom I please. It just so happens that excitement clings to Hearth, like white lint to black velvet. So I choose to hang around him. But it is my choice. “His bard,” indeed!

Hearth’s eyes drifted to the matron. “And these two are . . ?”

“Oh, my duenna and my bodyguard. --Is there somewhere we can talk?”

“Certainly,” he purred. “Right this way.” Hearth came down the remaining few steps and started to lead the way through the passageway underneath the stairs to his private office.

However, the barbarian stopped him. The behemoth squeezed through the narrow passageway, opened up the door, satisfied himself that no danger lurked inside and then backed out and stationed himself just inside our front door.

Stonewall Hearth’s office was cramped, with barely enough room for the four of us. When I pushed past Lady Jane to get to an unoccupied corner of the room, her heavy breast was pressed against my cheek. This was, all in all, a very pleasant experience for me. For her, probably not so much.

Hearth hung up his cane and took the seat behind his cluttered desk. Lady Jane sat in the chair in opposite. These were the only two chairs that could fit into the room. I scrunched in between a map of the city and Hearth’s word book. Now I, smelling of fresh fruit, raspberries, roses and vanilla, thumbed seemingly randomly through the book’s pages. Duenna, doo-EN-ah, noun: an older woman serving as an escort of chaperone to a young lady. So, Lady Jane had herself a duenna. Classy.

“Now, Lady Jane, tell me what your problem is.”
My ears came alive. Here is where an epic song begins. A damsel in distress. A legend coming to her aid. Dangers, skullduggery, nefarious happenings, treachery, dark secrets revealed, perhaps lust, adultery, and maybe even a murder.

“Now that I sit here, it all seems a little silly.’ She squirmed. “You see, I seem to have misplaced a childhood toy.”

“A toy?”

“Yes, I . . . I said it was silly. But it was very precious to me.”

“You want me to go looking for a toy?”

“It was a gift from my father. While other girls’ fathers were giving them dolls and tea sets and cut-glass jewelry, my father gave me a toy dragon. It could walk and flap its wings and roar and once -- I swear to all the gods -- it even breathed fire. My father told me -- by giving me that gift -- that he didn’t expect me to live the cloistered life of a spoiled, little rich girl. He expected by to go out into the world, to deal with it, just as if I’d have been his son. He expected great things of me. I love that dragon!”

“You want me to go looking for a toy?” Hearth sat back heavily in his chair. “You want me to go rummaging through your attic--”

“No, no, no!” she gasped. “That would be a waste of your talents! No wonder you’re upset. No, Master Hearth, we’ve already done that! I have had the servants go through everything, several times: the attic, cellars, spare rooms, closets, pantries, everything. We’ve searched every square inch of my manor, again and again and again. It is simply not there. It must have been stolen!”

“A child’s toy? Stolen?”

“There’s no other explanation!”

“You said it walked. Maybe it walked off.”

Lady Jane’s eyes turned colder than a tomb in winter. She sat as if stunned for a moment and then started to rise. “Maybe I made a mistake in coming here.”

I interrupted. “Just what do you wish Master Hearth to do?”

Those blue eyes softened as they turned to me. The breath caught in my throat, and my heart did a back flip. “This is a big city,” she said in a small voice. “I wouldn’t know where, outside my own home, to start looking. I thought that maybe he could. He knows Thunderhead City. He knows our city’s hiding places.”

Hearth also rose. “Lady Jane,” he began sympathetically.

Uh oh, I thought. To any normal ear, it must have sounded like I coughed. But to a trained ear, like Hearth’s, he must have heard buried deep within the cough: “Rent is due! Rent! Rent!”

His eyes glanced over to me. Then he sighed. “I get 20 silver pieces per day, plus expenses.”

“That is unacceptable,” snapped Lady Jane. “You may think that this work is worth only 20 silver pieces of day, but to me it is important! So, you shall be paid 30 silver pieces per day, with 100 pieces now as a retainer, plus expenses, plus 100 pieces of gold as a bonus if you find my dragon by the end of the week. Is this acceptable to you?”

Hearth nodded. “Yes,” he replied in an octave higher than normal.

She handed him a small bag of coins.

We had money! Hearth took down a detailed description of the toy dragon: about one foot high, green with blue shading around its scales, yellow eyes with black catlike irises, black talons, a yellow belly, and yellow fangs.

We had money.


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

When lower back problems forced me into early retirement, I moved to the central Philippines, designed and built a “palace” beside a tropical sea, and began living happily ever after. However, a 7.2-point earthquake, followed a few weeks later by a supertyphoon, knocked out our electrical power for months. I bought a solar generator, and using it to power my laptop, I began writing novels.

Q. What is the inspiration for the story?
A.
Inspiration for this obviously arises from Holmes & Dr. Watson, but rather than a cold and distant detective, I made mine passionate and hot blooded. Also, I wanted D&D-based characters whose "good" and "evil" didn't arise from the accident of their births but rather from their choices and actions.
Q. What was the hardest part of writing this book?
A.
Detective stories are HARD. You have to give your readers all the clues they need to solve the crime, yet in a subtle enough way that they don't solve it. You need a plot clever enough to engage the readers' intellects, yet still power the story forward with passions.
Q. What books are you reading now?
A.
I've discovered the best fiction I've read in a decade: Joseph J. Bailey's rollicking "Grak, Private Instigator." In the far future, in a world ruled by ultra-high tech and magic, Grak is an orc P.I. who's method of investigating is face smashing.

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