October 28, 2012
I will be using this page to provide sneak peeks of the upcoming releases of The Gemstone Chronicles series. Today, I am adding the first two chapters of The Gemstone Chronicles Book Two: The Amethyst for everyone to preview and enjoy. I expect to release The Amethyst in December 2012. Please feel free to leave comments about your impressions of The Amethyst and don’t forget to check out The Gemstone Chronicles Book One: The Carnelian.
Now, on to the sneak peek!
The Gemstone Chronicles Book Two: The Amethyst
“There was another terrorist attack this morning in Paris, France. A suicide bomber struck during a huge summer music festival…”
The newsreader’s voice went silent as Nana used the remote to change the channel on the television. She stopped at another news channel and the anchor was reporting a multiple shooting in New York. She tried another channel and the news there, though of a local Atlanta variety, was just as depressing. With nothing but bad news, she turned the television off, looked over at her husband Beebop, and sighed.
“I wonder if what the kelpie said was true about the Drow extending their influence into our world. It just seems that as each day goes by, our world gets more violent and darker – and from what you told us about your conversation with the kelpie that would be consistent with the goals of the Drow.”
She was referring to the not-so-mythical water horse that had tried to drown Beebop and their granddaughter Maggie during their unplanned visit to the magical world called Celahir.
Beebop looked up from his breakfast of eggs, sausage links, homemade biscuits, and grits, and wiped his mouth on his napkin.
“I have to believe what the kelpie said was true. It had no reason to lie to me and, since we had its bridle, it was bound to me. Still, that whole episode seems a really bad dream. Left to their own devices, I think that humans are basically good, but they can also be cold, cruel, and heartless when given sufficient motivation. Where that motivation comes from is anybody’s guess. Is the influence from the Drow, greed, despair, or just from human nature? That is the million-dollar question.”
“Speaking of the Drow and Celahir, I wonder how Findecano is progressing with his quest. It has been almost three months since we left him to continue on with his journey.”
Findecano was the elf that had been trapped in a chiastolite fairy cross stone. Nana and Beebop’s grandchildren, Aidan and Maggie, had freed him from his prison – against their grandparents’ wishes. Findecano’s quest was to recover the stolen Elven Bow gemstones. Beebop had retrieved the first of those stones – a beautifully smooth, oval cabochon carnelian. Findecano had left them back in the human world and continued on his quest searching for the next missing stone – the Amethyst.
“I don’t know, but I wouldn’t underestimate him. He is very driven to recover the gems stolen from the Light Elves. I believe he thinks the theft is his fault, since it was on his watch that they were stolen.”
He paused for a moment, thinking about the gemstones, Findecano, Celahir, and their grandchildren.
“When are the grandchildren going to be out for the summer?”
“Do you miss them as much as I do?” Nana asked. Beebop nodded and she continued, “Their last day of school is next Friday. If I know Aidan, he will be expecting us to be there to pick him up on that Friday and bring him back here with his sister in tow.”
“Have you talked to Laura about how they are going to spend the summer?” Beebop knew that every summer for the last fourteen years, Aidan had come to stay with them for almost the entire vacation period. It had been a little tough when he was younger and they had to work, but a summer camp with swimming lessons had helped a lot. Not only did he have a healthy activity to do, but also had learned to swim and how to make friends in new places. Maggie had not gone to the camp when she got old enough, so she had not learned to swim as well as Aidan. Now that Nana and Beebop were semi-retired, perhaps they could get her into swimming lessons this summer. However, Aidan was almost fourteen and Maggie was ten, so they knew that at some point the grandchildren were not going to want to spend summer vacation with their grandparents. Nana and Beebop hoped to milk it as long as they could, though.
“I did ask her about it the other day and as far as she knew, they were planning on coming as soon as they got out, but she was supposed to confirm that and let me know. I think she and Mike were planning on going camping, but I haven’t heard from her yet.”
Beebop smiled in anticipation of the children’s visit. They had always been close, but had grown even closer since their visit to Celahir. Something about facing danger together tended to do that. Beebop still had fond memories of his time in the Navy aboard the submarine. He knew that you make friends that have a very special bond when you face dangers together. During their first visit to Celahir, they all faced death on a number of occasions, and those experiences had really forged that strong bond between them.
“I am going to the workshop to work on your china cabinet as soon as I clean up the kitchen. What do you have planned for today?” Beebop asked, changing the subject.
“I was hoping to do some antique shopping this afternoon. I heard that a new store has opened near here and I want to go check it out. Would you like to go with me?” she asked.
“Sure – if we can drive the Corvette. I need a couple of hours in the workshop and then I will take a shower and we’ll go.”
“I promise not to buy anything big so we can drive your mid-life crisis,” Nana replied impishly.
Beebop grinned at her, got up from the table, and carried their empty breakfast plates into the kitchen and set about cleaning up. Nana left him to his chore and she went into the office to look at her food blog stats and plan her next blog post.
About the time that Nana and Beebop were eating breakfast, Aidan and Maggie were waking up from sleeping late. It was their custom since it was Saturday and they did not have school. Or, more accurately, Aidan was sleeping late. Maggie had been awake for a while, and, when Aidan finally opened his eyes, he saw his blonde sister sitting patiently at the foot of his bed.
He sat straight up, instantly awake, and asked her irritably, “What are you doing in here this early on a Saturday morning? I wanted to sleep late today!”
Maggie answered back just as irritably. “You did sleep late. It is almost nine o’clock. Besides, I had the dream again, so I slept at the foot of your bed. I don’t know what the dream means except that Findecano and the other elves need our help and I don’t know how to help them. I wish summer vacation would get here so we could go to Nana and Beebop’s. They will know what to do.”
“Mom hasn’t said whether we could go for the summer or not. She and Dad may not let us go right away. They want to go camping,” Aidan said, irritation still in his voice.
“They have to let us go. I will go crazy if I keep having this dream and if I try to tell Mom and Dad, they will think I have lost my mind or that I am making it up. I can tell Nana and Beebop about it,” Maggie complained.
“You should tell Mom and Dad. We should tell them everything that happened,” Aidan said quietly. “I know that they will think we made the whole thing up or that we have gone insane, but I still think we should tell them.”
“If we tell them, they will think that we play too many video games and that is why we are having nightmares,” Maggie answered seriously.
Aidan grunted, stifled a yawn, got out of bed, stretched, and rubbed the sleep from his eyes. He trundled off to the bathroom to wash his face and brush his hair. Maggie got off the foot of the bed, sighed and wished the dream would just stop.
The dream always started the same way. She was walking in Celahir with Aidan, Nana, and Beebop. She could see, in a foggy kind of way, Findecano, Alatariel, Luthien, and Lotheth, their elven friends from Celahir. They were in a forest, and she could hear birds chirping and see the sun shining. Her family was laughing and joking as they walked and she could see the elves turn to look at them and laugh, too. Then, suddenly, the sky turned dark, lightning flashed, and rained poured from the sky. They dashed into the trees and took shelter under a huge chestnut tree. Chestnut trees are supposed to provide protection during storms, which is why they took shelter there. She could see her family standing under the tree laughing, rain dripping from their hair. She could see the elves, too, but instead of them laughing, they had looks of terror on their faces as they were swept up in a dark cloud and disappeared into the blackness of the storm. She always woke up right after that, never knowing what had happened to her friends. She did not think that the dream was what really happened, but it told her that her friends were in great danger in Celahir. Maggie knew that she was probably receiving these dreams because she had learned some telepathic abilities using her quartz crystal the last time they were in Celahir. She wore the quartz on a silver chain around her neck during the day and left it on the nightstand by her bed at night, so the stone was always near. She knew she should probably get rid of it, but the idea of not being able to see what might be happening to her friends made her keep it. The thing she did not know was whose thoughts she was receiving and that scared her. Maggie also knew that if Findecano and the others were not able to recover all of the gemstones stolen from the Elven Bow, then the Drow would win and darkness would reign over Celahir and, perhaps, the human world, too. She wanted to tell someone besides Aidan, but her parents would not understand and she never had a chance to talk to Nana and Beebop without one of her parents being around, so it was driving her crazy. She did not sleep much because of her dream and it was beginning to show. She had dark circles under her eyes and, though she and Aidan were both good students, schoolwork was not a priority right now. Luckily enough, school was almost out and then she and Aidan would go to their grandparents’ house and she could tell them everything. She sighed again and slowly shook her head as Aidan came back into his room.
“Let’s go get some breakfast. I’m hungry.”
Maggie nodded her head and followed him down the stairs to see what their dad had prepared for breakfast.
* * *
Beebop worked on the china cabinet he was building for Nana. It was almost complete, but he still had to build and install the cornice for the hutch. He set up his table saw and miter box and began to cut the crown molding that would finish off the piece. Once he had cut the pieces to length and mitered the corners, he attached them to the top of the hutch. He drove in the last finishing nail and stood back to admire his handiwork.
“Not bad, Beebop!” he muttered to himself.
He looked at his watch and realized that a little more than two hours had passed, so he hurriedly cleaned up the shop, put away his tools, and headed to the house to take a shower.
After he showered, he shaved, leaving his white beard neatly trimmed. He had grown the beard during their first trip to Celahir. While there, his beard had gotten somewhat long and he thought it had made him look like some kind of deranged prophet. Nana had teasingly called him Whitebeard the Pirate while in Celahir. Once he trimmed it, though, he decided that he liked the look and he decided to keep it. Nana liked it, too, so that made it all the better. He dressed in jeans and a polo shirt and put on his walking shoes. He gathered his wallet and keys and was just about to close his closet door when he remembered his jeweler’s loupe was in his valet, so he put it in his pocket. Since he and Nana were going antiquing, he might be able to use it to find a treasure. He smiled to himself and headed downstairs to find his real treasure.
He found Nana sitting at the computer in the home office, putting the finishing touches on her latest blog post. She had made shrimp creole the previous night, photographed the dish beautifully, and posted it to her very popular web site. Of course, the best part was that he got to eat it! She got up from the chair, grabbed her purse, and kissed him lightly.
“How goes the china cabinet?”
“Construction is complete. I just have to paint it – as soon as you decide what the color is going to be.”
“I can’t decide whether to have it distressed black or a creamy white. I think it will help if we go antiquing. I might get some inspiration. Let’s go find some treasures.”
Beebop smiled at her enthusiasm, took her hand, and led her out the door to his car.
* * *
Aidan and Maggie hung around the living room watching television after breakfast. Their dad had prepared some pancakes and sausages – one of their very favorite breakfasts – and they ate until they felt like they were going to pop. Since it was Saturday, they did not have to get dressed right away, so they watched a little Spongebob, but they just were not that interested in the adventures of the cartoon characters.
Their mom, Laura, noticed the rather lethargic attitude.
“What is wrong with you two?” Laura asked. “I have noticed that for the past few days, neither of you is as excited as I would think you would be with school about to be out for the summer. Are you sick or something?”
The two children looked at each other for a moment, and then Aidan answered for both of them.
“Nothing is wrong with us, Mom. We are just tired and ready for school to be out so we can go to Nana and Beebop’s. We are ready to have some summer time fun! Do we get to go?”
“Have you asked Nana and Beebop if it is OK with them for you to come?” Laura asked them. “Besides, Dad and I were planning on going camping for a week starting the Friday that school is out. You would rather go to Nana and Beebop’s instead of going camping with us?” she asked teasingly.
“You know we love to go camping, but we also like to go to their house,” Maggie said. “You know that they will always be ready for us to visit them. Since they got their new house, they have really cool things for us to do there, and Beebop promised to let me ride the four-wheeler by myself this summer!”
“We can go camping later in the summer, but we haven’t seen Nana and Beebop since spring break and we miss them. Besides, I just learned to water ski during spring break, so I need to go back and get better at it. And, I want to ride the four-wheeler, too!” Aidan added enthusiastically.
Mom caved and said, “OK! OK! We will ask them tonight if it is all right for you to go as soon as school is out. You are right about their house, though. It is really cool!”
She laughed and walked out of the room. Aidan and Maggie sighed in relief and wished that Friday would hurry up and get here.
Nana and Beebop got in Beebop’s red Corvette convertible, top down, and headed out to their favorite antique store. After browsing for a while, Nana found an old china platter and a large piece of old barn wood. Nana knew that she could use them for props for her food photography. Purchases made and miraculously tucked away in the cramped car, Nana suggested that they ride to another antique store that had recently opened in an old mill and housed collections from many different vendors. Beebop agreed and they drove a short distance to the store. As they wandered through the store, they discovered a new booth that was being set up. The vendor was arranged items on shelves against the back wall of the booth, but turned to talk to them as they stopped in front of the booth.
“Good afternoon! Welcome to my booth. I am sorry for the mess, but I am just moving in today. Please browse around and see if something speaks to you.”
The vendor’s choice of words startled Nana, since that was how she and Beebop referred to treasures they found during their antique hunts, and she looked closely at the woman who was speaking. The woman appeared to be in her late sixties, with gray hair fashioned into a bun, and old-fashioned horn-rimmed glasses dangling from a gold chain around her neck. Her face was very pretty and virtually unlined, though, so she looked at least ten years younger than she was, and she was very slim and had a musical sort of voice. The woman calmly returned Nana’s stare for a few moments and then gestured at her stock.
“I have some more pieces in my trailer outside that I haven’t gotten on display yet. What are you interested in?”
Nana continued to stare at the woman, so Beebop answered, all the while looking at Nana quizzically.
“We are looking for old china, bowls, cooking utensils, and things like that mostly. Lana uses them as props for her food blog photography. I am also on the lookout for unusual jewelry or rough natural gemstones. Of course, we are interested in pretty much anything that catches our eye.”
Nana shook her head as though she was emerging from a trance and apologized for staring.
“I am so sorry I was staring at you. It’s just that your skin looks so wonderful and without any lines. How do you keep your skin looking so young?”
The woman giggled in embarrassment.
“I guess I just have good genes. But, thanks for the compliment. Now as for the things you are looking for, I am afraid I don’t have any china or cooking utensils. I deal mostly with small pieces of art, pottery, and furniture. However, I did receive a very unusual piece of jewelry last week. I have another store in Dawsonville, Georgia, and last week an older gentleman came into that store and showed me a necklace made from tektite, which I had never heard of before. He told me what it was and that it was from a meteorite strewnfield here in Georgia. We haggled over it for a little while, but eventually he sold it to me.” She held up a silver chain with a lump of greenish stone hanging from it.
Beebop looked at the greenish stone with some interest so the shopkeeper handed him the necklace and he pulled out his loupe to get a closer look at the stone. He quickly became absorbed in his study of the rock.
“I hate to be nosy, but can I ask you your name?” Nana asked.
The vendor said, rather shyly, “My name is Tari Surion”
“That is an unusual name. May I ask its origin? It sounds kind of Scandinavian.”
“Yes, it is. My parents were born here in the U.S., but my grandparents were from Norway. Norway is the home of the elves, you know. The legendary home of the elves is a place called Alfheim – literally “Elf Home.” The magic of the elves is very strong in Norway and many say that elven blood runs through all true Norwegians. The legends say that the elves are immortal, so perhaps that is where I get my good skin. It is also the inspiration for the name of my little store here. I call it Elven Magic.”
Tari’s statement caused Nana to choke a little, and Tari looked at her strangely, but Beebop saved her from further embarrassment.
He put away his loupe and asked Tari, “How much do you want for this? I think it is fascinating to hold a piece of a meteorite, something that came from another world, so I want to take it home with us. Besides,” he said looking at Nana, “it will make a great addition to your jewelry collection.”
Nana shook her head in mock seriousness and said, “You don’t have to convince me. If you want it, buy it.”
Beebop and Tari haggled over the price for a bit, until both were finally satisfied. Beebop pulled some cash from his pocket and paid Tari and she wrapped the necklace in tissue and put it in a small bag. She thanked them for their business and was about to tell them goodbye when she stopped and looked at them as if weighing a decision.
After a moment, Tari said, “You know, the funny thing about that stone is that the man who sold it to me said that I wouldn’t hold on to it for very long. He said that the people destined to own it would be along to claim it very soon. Then he said the strangest thing. He told me that the two people meant to own the stone would be here at this store today to buy it. I had actually not planned to open the store until Monday, but after what he said, I was curious enough to move up my opening by a couple of days. It is really amazing that his prediction seems to be coming true.”
Beebop and Nana gaped at Tari in surprise. After a minute or so of silence, Beebop managed to say, “If you don’t mind me asking, did this man tell you his name?”
Tari looked thoughtful and then said, “Yes. As I recall he said his name was Mr. Keeper.”
They left the store, then, and Beebop led Nana back out to the Corvette, opened her door for her, and then climbed behind the wheel of the classic. He started the car, listened appreciatively to the quiet powerful rumble of the engine, and then drove them away from the store.
Once they were on the road, he looked over at this wife and asked, “Well, that was a little bit strange. What is going on? Could it really have been Keeper? And, if it was, why did he send us a stone? Especially that stone?”
“I hope you are asking those questions rhetorically. I have no idea what is going on. Did you notice that Tari said she was of Norwegian descent?”
Beebop shook his head and she continued, “I thought it was odd that she would mention that fact and then add that Norway was the legendary ancestral home of the elves. She also calls her store Elven Magic. It can’t be coincidence that she obtained the stone from Mr. Keeper. Keeper must have known of her heritage and used her to get the stone to us.”
“But, how could he have known about Tari? Keeper may know many things, but I can’t imagine that he would know of an antique dealer in Georgia and give her a stone that might possibly end up in our hands. I have a bad feeling about this. Keeper wouldn’t be nosing around in our world unless something was very wrong. I’m thinking that we will be headed back to Celahir whether we like it or not,” Beebop said as the Corvette accelerated toward their mountain home.
He drove a little faster than usual; in part to get home more quickly, but also because he loved the way the Corvette hugged the winding road that led up the mountain to their home.
They reached their home a short while later and stopped in front of the garage door. He used the opener and raised the door, then got out. Beebop told Nana get in the driver’s seat and stay in the car with the engine running while he took a cautionary trip through the house just in case someone undesirable from Celahir had decided to pay them a visit.
Finding no visitors in the house, he did a quick tour of the workshop and garage. Nothing seemed out of place, so he went back to the car and asked Nana to park it for him. After she had parked the Corvette, they went into the house together and Beebop sat down at the breakfast bar. Nana had poured him a glass of tea and prepared a quick meal of sandwiches and potato chips. As they munched on lunch, they discussed the shopping trip.
“Do you think we should have kept the necklace after we found out how Tari got it and what Mr. Keeper said about it?” Nana asked him.
“I think we would have ended up with the stone one way or another. If it did come from Keeper, that is. It seems that no matter how hard we try to avoid involvement in the affairs of Celahir, it sucks us in. I wouldn’t put it past Naesse and his crew to do something like this to trick us, however. What doesn’t make sense, though, is how Keeper got to our world and why he would want us to have this stone. I know Keeper said he could use some magic, but I thought he never left his land. In addition, we can’t cross the barrier without help since we don’t know the spell to open the way, so having the stone doesn’t really help us at all – which may mean that Naesse had nothing to do with. It is just mysterious and odd.”
“What if the purpose of the stone was to send us a message – like some kind of warning?” asked Nana. “If it was Naesse, why try to trick us? Why not just attack us here? It isn’t like they haven’t done that before, remember? And, why attack us at all? We don’t have the Carnelian or any of the other missing gemstones, so what does Naesse gain?”
“I know, right?” Beebop replied. “I had to replace two doors and patch drywall after our last visits from them. You are right, though, about Naesse gaining nothing from attacking us. I think we will need to do some research about the properties of tektite after lunch. We need to know why Keeper, or someone possibly impersonating him, wanted us to have this stone.”
Beebop finished eating his sandwiches, quickly cleaned up the kitchen, went into the office, and fired up the computer while Nana went to unpack her treasures from antique shopping.
He pulled up a search engine and typed in ‘tektite.’ He returned over one hundred thousand hits, but the first hit told him most of what he wanted to know. He quickly read the information and then went into the living room.
“Well, this is most interesting,” he told Nana. “It seems that tektite is a glass rock, which sounds kind of funny. It comes, most scientists think, from meteorite impacts. There are four areas called strewnfields in the United States. One of those strewnfields stretches from Georgia to Texas. That is probably where Mr. Keeper found this specimen. It isn’t particularly valuable, but,” Beebop paused dramatically – just for effect – “it is considered, among other things, a telepathy stone.”
Nana crooked an eyebrow at him and said, “A telepathy stone? Well, that is interesting. Do you think Keeper is trying to get a message through to us? If that was the case, and he was in this world anyway, why not just come here and tell us in person? And, how do you use a telepathy stone?”
“Those are all good questions, my love, but ones that we don’t have answers to. Perhaps it was for another reason that will reveal itself in time. The thing that troubles me most is that if Keeper is in our world – or at least has been – then as I said in the car, are we about to have to go back into Celahir and help? I admit to being just a little suspicious that we coincidentally find this tektite only a few days before the grandchildren are supposed to visit for the summer. That is, assuming Laura and Mike have decided to let them come and stay with us.”
“I will have to ask her tonight when we call them. I can’t imagine she would say no, though. But, should we even let them come knowing that trouble might be brewing?” Nana asked tersely.
“I think I would rather have them here where we can help them. If they stay up there and Naesse or some of his friends attack them up there, Laura and Mike won’t have a clue on how to protect them. I knew this peace and quiet was too good to last, and I am not talking about the children coming. But hey, on the bright side, maybe we will get to see our elf friends again.”
Nana looked at him with narrowed eyes and said sharply, “Don’t start dreaming about going back to Celahir. If we do have to go, it will not be a fun trip and you know it. We will be in danger from our first step into that world. We barely survived last time and I, for one, am not looking forward to another dangerous visit. I think you are right about the children, though. We should have them here.”
She paused for a moment and then added, “But it would be nice to see Findecano and the others. I am very fond of them.”
“I was only kidding about going to Celahir. You know that I don’t have a burning desire to go back there. You have to admit, tough, it is somewhat cool being one of the few humans to know that another world exists. Of course, if we told anyone, it wouldn’t take long for someone to lock us up in a padded room. It is similar to when I was in the Navy, had a top-secret clearance, and couldn’t talk about stuff. Besides, as we discussed before, it may be our destiny to help out on this quest.”
“I know,” Nana replied. “You still don’t talk about that Navy stuff – even twenty-five years later. For the most part, you are still somewhat sane – I think,” she added playfully. “However, I am not sure about the destiny thing.”
Beebop gave her a sidelong glance and then burst out laughing. Nana joined in the laughter, then got up to go cook something for the blog. Beebop decided to go to the basement and examine his rock collection.
They spent the rest of the day pursuing their hobbies. Nana cooked, staged, and photographed a couple of dishes for her blog. Beebop created a couple of cabochons, one of which was a carnelian he had found not long after they returned from Celahir. He was particularly proud of that one, since the first stolen gemstone they had recovered from the kelpie was a carnelian. Though not as large as the carnelian from the Elven Bow, it was a reminder of the trials they had gone through and the dangers they had faced and conquered.
He finished with the polishing step of the cabochon and took it upstairs to show Nana. He needed her opinion on how to set the stone. He had recently started his own blog – called Beebop Rocks – and was learning how to mount stones in different settings. His blog was tiny compared to Nana’s, but it was fun for him and generated a little money that paid for his hobby.
Beebop was surprised at how much time had slipped by while he was working on the cabochons. It was early evening and Nana was putting supper on the table as he came up from the basement. He noticed that she was wearing the tektite necklace they had purchased earlier in the day.
“The necklace looks good on you. I hope you don’t start tapping into the cosmic consciousness, though,” Beebop teased.
Nana ignored him. “I put it on to see how it looked and forgot I wearing it. I do like it, though. On a different subject, I made us some barbeque chicken and potato salad. Now, let’s eat.”
As they ate, Beebop showed her the carnelian cabochon he had finished. She looked it over, noted the beautiful reddish-orange color and told him it would look best set in gold.
“A cabochon that big would make a great pendent necklace and you could probably get a nice price for it. If you want I can help you photograph it once you get it mounted,” Nana offered.
After they had eaten and Beebop cleaned up the kitchen, they sat in the living room and called the grandchildren. Aidan answered on the first ring and put the phone on speaker so they could talk to Maggie as well.
“Hey!” they said together. “We talked to Mom and Dad about coming to spend the summer with you and they said it was OK with them if it was OK with you guys, so can you come pick us up on Friday? We want you to come get us from school.”
Nana and Beebop grinned at each other and Nana said, “Of course we can. We will be there when you get out of school Friday afternoon.”
“Yay! We can’t wait!” they yelled excitedly. “Do you have lots of things planned for us to do?” Nana and Beebop grinned again and began to tell them about the plans they had for the summer.
“Beebop, are you still going to let me ride the four-wheeler by myself this summer? Maggie asked.
“Of course I will. I promised to let you and I always try to keep my promises. But, just like Aidan, you have to show me that you can handle it by yourself,” Beebop answered.
“OK, I can do that. I might need a new pink helmet. Mine was getting kind of small when we were there in the spring.”
“We will have to see about that,” Nana told her and shook her head at Beebop. “Now, here is the rest of what we have planned for the summer.” Nana launched into a laundry list of possible activities for the summer.
When they finished telling Aidan and Maggie about the summer plans, they asked to talk to their mother. They all said goodbye and love you and then the children turned the phone over to their mother. After a brief conversation with their daughter Laura, Nana and Beebop confirmed that they would pick the children up the following Friday, then chatted about everyday life and Laura’s progress in college. She had returned to school to pursue a new degree, which made her parents proud, but was really stressing her out. After an update on her grades for the term that had just finished, they said goodnight and hung up.
After ending the call, they smiled at each other in anticipation of the grandchildren’s visit, then settled back to enjoy some quiet time before turning in for the night.
Nana turned on the television, purposely avoiding the news channels. She did not think she could take another dose of bad news and gloom and doom today. She had seen enough this morning and all she wanted was some mindless entertainment for a couple of hours. Fortunately, that was not hard to do with the two hundred or so channels from the satellite and the fact that most of the programs on television were mindless anyway.
The next few days passed by quickly as they busied themselves getting the house ready for the children. Nana made sure all of the beds had fresh linens, and she baked cookies – lots of cookies. She also shopped to make sure they had all the necessities for their grandchildren’s visit, which meant they needed chocolate for chocolate milk, cinnamon for cinnamon toast – Aidan’s favorite – and a couple dozen eggs.
Beebop made sure all of the four-wheelers were ready to ride and the jet skis and ski boat were ready to go. With the recreational equipment taken care of, he spent the remaining days before the children arrived rock hunting or riding his four-wheeler around the property. While he enjoyed those activities, he also took great care to inspect his property for any unwanted visitors from Celahir. He saw no signs of them, but still wanted to be vigilant. He did not tell Nana what he was doing, as he did not want to worry her. He also visited the area where the barrier crossing was located. He did not see any indication that anyone or anything had breached the barrier. At night, he worked on creating cabochons or faceted jewels.
Nana spent her evenings reading or watching television or cooking and photographing recipes for the blog. One thing was inevitable when the children came; she did not have much time to devote to the blog, so she wanted to get some posts done beforehand so she could post them without having to take time away from Maggie and Aidan. In addition, given the mysterious circumstances surrounding the tektite necklace, a return trip to Celahir was not out of the question. Just in case, she set up the posts to publish at preset intervals. That way, she would not have to worry about posts while she was off in another world. In the back of her mind, she fought the urge to believe that a return to the dangers of the elf world was inevitable, but she was a practical woman and planned accordingly. As her father used to tell her, plan for the worst and hope for the best.
Finally, after what seemed to be an incredibly long week, Thursday night came around and they were sitting in the living room watching a documentary on the history of the Middle East. It was getting kind of late and they were tired and just about to go upstairs and get ready for bed when Nana, who had been fighting to stay awake, suddenly sat up and began to mumble.
Beebop got up from his chair, rushed over to her, and tried to talk with her. She was staring blankly at the wall and her lips were moving. Beebop called her name a couple of times, then shook her shoulders when she did not respond to her name. He was beginning to panic, since she was not responding. As he picked up the phone to call 911, she shook her head and just as quickly as her mumbling started, it stopped, and she was back to normal. She looked at Beebop curiously, wondering why he was holding the phone.
“Who are you calling?” Nana asked him, her voice normal.
Beebop laid the phone down on the table and sat down on the sofa next to her.
“You don’t remember what just happened?”
Nana shook her head. “What do you mean remember? All I remember is that I was struggling to stay awake and I think I dozed off.”
“You were mumbling and staring at the wall and I couldn’t get you to stop. You didn’t respond to me calling your name. I started to panic and was about to call 911 to get some help,” he explained, his face lined with worry.
“I don’t remember you calling my name or shaking me. I did have a vivid dream about our elf friends and us walking in Celahir. We were all laughing and then a storm blew up and we took shelter under a huge old chestnut tree,” Nana paused as she remembered the dream.
“We all got wet, and were standing under the tree dripping when the storm swept the elves up into the clouds, and they disappeared. That was when I woke up. I remember feeling helpless that we unable to do anything.”
“Well, it was really weird, whatever it was. I have seen you talk in your sleep before, but nothing like this. Are you sure you are OK? Do we need to go to the emergency room or something?”
“No, I don’t need to go to the hospital. I am fine, but I do suddenly feel very tired. Can we just go to bed?” Nana shuddered as she recalled the dream.
Beebop nodded and went to turn on the alarm and check the locks on the doors and windows. He did not expect trouble, but with the odd appearance of the tektite necklace and Nana’s episode, he was not taking chances. Nana went upstairs to get ready for bed.
When he made it upstairs, Nana was taking off her jewelry, and a thought occurred to him.
“Did you have that tektite necklace on when you had your episode downstairs?” Nana nodded and he continued.
“You know that the tektite is supposed to be a telepathy stone, right? I wonder if you intercepted thoughts from the elves or someone else.”
“Let’s not go jumping to conclusions. It could have simply been a dream based on our experiences in Celahir, especially since we have been discussing it some this week and it has been on our minds ever since we got the necklace.”
She paused for a moment. “I know it seems pretty odd that we just got the necklace and all that, but it really could just be coincidence.”
Beebop looked at her and shook his head. “You don’t believe that and neither do I,” he said. “After all, with all of the coincidences adding up this week, a dream like that is fitting. As I said before, I think that we are destined to return to Celahir and I think we will end up there not long after the children arrive.”
Nana nodded in agreement, her face a strange mixture of expressions. Beebop gave her a big hug and went to brush his teeth, not knowing what else to say.
* * *
Maggie had not had her dream in a few days, but Thursday night, not long after she went to bed, the dream returned. She awoke after the dream ended, sweating a little, and her mouth dry. The dream really scared her this time because it lasted longer than usual. In this dream, she saw the elves falling from the sky after being swept up by the storm, and she went to Aidan’s room to talk with him. He was sound asleep and she did not want to wake him, so she curled up with a blanket from her bed and fell asleep at the foot of his bed, too scared to sleep in her room alone. For whatever reason, she did not have the dream when she slept in Aidan’s room and, after this latest dream, she was glad to be able to sleep through the rest of the night undisturbed.
May 5, 2013
Today, I published The Gemstone Chronicles Book Two: The Amethyst on Smashwords. That means that the first two books of The Gemstone Chronicles will be available in ebook and paperback formats from all of the major retailers very soon. To celebrate the Smashwords release, I’m putting a 2 chapter sneak peek of The Gemstone Chronicles Book Three: The Emerald here for your reading pleasure!
The Gemstone Chronicles Book Three: The Emerald
Beebop, Nana, Laura, Aidan, Maggie, Findecano, and Luthien strode through the woods on the mainland, heading for a small village about three leagues distant from the shore where they had landed. As they walked, Beebop reviewed in his mind everything he and his family and friends had been through in Celahir. The group was on a quest to rescue Aidan and Maggie’s father and to recover the third of four gemstones that had been stolen from the Elven Bow. The gemstones in the Elven Bow, which was in possession of the Light Elves, worked in conjunction with four gemstones set in the Elven Sword. The Elven Sword was in possession of the Dark Elves, or the Drow, as they were also known. Two of the Drow – Enelya and Elerosse – had stolen the gems during Midsummer Celebration over two hundred years before. The Drow had imprisoned Findecano in a chiastolite stone using a rare spell after the Light Elf had discovered them stealing the gemstones. A smelly troll named Yul guarded Findecano while he was trapped in the stone. Aidan, Maggie, and Beebop were out rock hunting when Maggie found the chiastolite fairy cross stone. The three of them took it back to Nana and Beebop’s home, where Findecano appeared to them and asked to be freed. Despite Nana and Beebop’s instructions to the contrary, Aidan and Maggie sneaked the stone out to Beebop’s workshop and smashed it open with a hammer. Findecano appeared, as did Yul, the troll. Nana had clonked Yul over the head with a cast iron frying pan, Beebop and Aidan had trussed him up with duct tape, and Beebop, in the midst of an insult laden rant, accidently discovered the troll’s name. Beebop’s naming rendered Yul unable to attack them. Findecano and Beebop returned the troll to the elven world known as Celahir. Findecano told them about the missing gemstones and their role in the deterioration of the barrier between Celahir and the human world. The Drow wanted the barrier to collapse so that they could spread their dark influence into the human world and increase their power.
Beebop and his family had decided not to get involved in the affairs of Celahir, but the Drow had different ideas. Enelya and Elerosse, along with a contingent of orcs, attacked them at the barrier, where they had accompanied Findecano so he could return to Celahir. They fled across the barrier and into Celahir, making their way to the Light Elf city of Elessar Melwasul in the middle of the Northern Forest. There, they met the Elven Council led by Naesse. Naesse had ignored their pleas regarding the missing gemstones and asked them to leave the city. They left the next morning and were attacked by the Drow, but managed to escape and returned to the human world. Their escape was short-lived, though, as Naesse and his Drow accomplices attacked them at their home. Aidan managed to draw power from his gemstone and teleport his family and friends back to Celahir, escaping the elves.
Once they were back in Celahir, they outsmarted the kelpie – a very unpleasant water horse that tried to drown its victims – and Naesse, and recovered the Carnelian from the kelpie and returned to the human world. Findecano continued on this quest to recover the second gemstone, the Amethyst.
The quest to recover the Amethyst led them to return to Celahir. Findecano and Alatariel visited them in the human world and asked for their help in defeating Brendan, the giant that was the guardian of the Amethyst. The humans did not really want to go back, but then Yul, the troll from their first adventure in Celahir, showed up being chased by devil-dogs. Beebop helped drive the devil-dogs back to Celahir and Yul told them that Naesse had captured Aidan and Maggie’s dad, Mike, and taken him to Celahir. They returned to Celahir and went to Brendan’s island fortress to challenge the giant. Aidan was their champion – as chosen by Naesse – and he defeated Brendan in three challenges. Brendan thought he had been cheated and kidnapped Aidan and the local innkeeper’s daughter, Siobhan. Brendan inadvertently reunited Siobhan and her mother – who he had taken prisoner years before – when he locked Aidan and Siobhan in a cage with her in the castle. The three of them escaped from the cage and made their way to Brendan’s room, where Naesse and his crony from the village, Dermot, captured them again. Naesse admitted that he had lied to Brendan about holding his heart hostage and had promised Brendan that Caitrin – Siobhan’s mother – might fall in love with him if he kept her at the castle. Brendan became angry after overhearing Naesse talking about what he had done. Aidan decided to be a friend to Brendan, and fought alongside him against Naesse. Brendan, after sustaining some terrible wounds protecting Aidan from Naesse’s magic, grabbed Naesse and Dermot and leaped from the castle walls into the sea beyond. Just before Brendan leaped into the sea and perished, he gave the Amethyst to Aidan. Aidan gave the Amethyst to Alatariel, who sailed back to the Northern Forest area to give to gemstone to Keeper. Unbeknownst to the companions, Naesse had survived the plunge into the sea and had watched the ship carrying Alatariel – and the Amethyst – sail off into the distance.
With all that history behind them, and a lot of unknowns in front of them, Beebop asked Findecano a question that had been bugging him.
“I thought you said that the Emerald was being guarded by some kind of basilisk or something. Now we are told it is being guarded by a crone – who also happens to hold Mike captive. So, which is it; a crone or a really big chicken-lizard thing?”
“Beebop, that has puzzled me as well. Enelya and Elerosse told me that the Emerald was guarded by a cockatrice. A cockatrice is not the same as a basilisk, though. A basilisk does not possess wings as the cockatrice does. That is not important to our dilemma, however. Enelya and Elerosse could have been lying, but why would they? Everything else they told me turned out to be true, so we have to assume that they were truthful about that. Thus, I have no idea what role this witch plays in our little drama. Perhaps we will learn more when we reach the inn of Peter McGuigan’s cousin.”
“Speaking of the inn, how much longer until we get there? I am tired!” Maggie said, stroking the fur the Lucy, Keeper’s ferret that he had allowed to accompany them.
Findecano chuckled and said, “It will not be long now. The village is supposed to be about three leagues from the shore, so that is about three hours of walking. Judging by the sun, we have been walking for about that long, so I would expect the village to be very near.”
As is on cue, they rounded a bend in the forest path and saw the first house. It was made of wood and almost blended in with the surrounding trees, but smoke coming from the chimney revealed its presence. As they neared the house, the front door opened and a small thin boy of about Maggie’s age appeared. He had longish black hair and bright green eyes. He gazed shyly at the group as they passed by his door and then he fell in behind them after they passed.
After a few minutes, the boy said, “Hello. My name is Dylan. Where are you going?”
“We are looking for the inn in the village. We need a place to sleep and eat,” Laura said kindly to the boy.
“I can show you. We do not get many strangers here, especially elves and people dressed funny like you are.”
He pointed at the human’s jeans and boots, which they had changed back into when they left Peter’s inn. They all laughed at Dylan’s comment and then gestured for him to lead the way to the inn.
As it turned out, they needed him to guide them to the inn. The building was set well back from the path in a deeply shaded glen surrounded by high brush. They likely would have walked right past the place had Dylan not been there to help. Dylan strode directly through the brush and into a small neat clearing at the front of the inn.
“Here we are!” Dylan announced proudly.
Findecano reached deep into his tunic and found a small coin. He handed the coin to Dylan, who looked at it in astonishment and joy, then tucked it into his own tunic and grinned broadly.
“Thank you, sir!” Dylan said happily.
“I have been meaning to ask you what people use for money in Celahir,” Nana said to Findecano.
“We usually trade for goods more than use coin. However, since I have no goods to barter with, I used one of my few coins to reward this young man for his help.”
“How did you pay for our passage on the ship and our rooms at The Bloated Toad and at Peter’s inn?” Maggie asked.
“Keeper paid for those. How, I do not know. Keeper is a mystery to us, even though he is on our side in this struggle,” Findecano shrugged his shoulders at the thought of Keeper.
“Follow me please,” Dylan said importantly. The boy, without waiting for an answer, walked boldly up to the door of the inn and opened it. He stuck his head inside and looked around. He did not see anyone and turned back toward the group gathered on the steps.
“There does not seem to be anyone here. That is odd. Mr. Eamonn O’Keefe, the owner, is always here. My father brings him firewood and game that he hunts. I wonder where he could be.”
Beebop and Findecano looked in the inn and made sure it was deserted and then invited the rest of their party inside. Much like Peter’s inn, this one had a combination dining room and tavern area where people could eat, drink and socialize. There were a few tables clustered in front of the huge fireplace, a couple of windows that were clean and allowed ample light, and a bar across the back wall where drinks were poured. The whole place looked clean, warm, and completely empty. Findecano looked around uneasily, unsure of why the inn would be so deserted.
“I do not like this at all,” Findecano said. “Even in an out of the way place like this, there should be a fire going for cooking, and someone to look after the inn.”
Beebop nodded and then froze as he heard a sound from the floor above them. He motioned for everyone to remain silent and signaled for Luthien, Findecano, and Aidan to follow him. They padded through the inn and found two staircases. Findecano and Luthien went up the main stairs while Beebop and Aidan went to the back stairs. They crept up the stairs as quietly as they could, hoping that a creaky board wouldn’t betray their presence. They reached the upper floor and noted there were six doors leading to different rooms. They started on Findecano’s end, opening each door quietly and peering in. Finding nothing in the first room, they opened the next two doors and found nothing. At the fourth door, Aidan eagerly turned the knob and swung the door open. As the door swung, a figure rushed out at them, bowling Aidan over and knocking Beebop against the wall. The figure ran down the back stairs and headed through the kitchen. As the group upstairs came running down, they heard a commotion from the kitchen and they burst into that room, alert and ready to fight. They just as quickly dropped their fighting posture as they found a small figure thrashing on the floor, struggling under the combined weight of Maggie, Laura, and Nana. Dylan stood back from them a little bit, eyes wide open at the scene before him. Beebop went into the common room and retrieved his pack. From his pack he drew a couple of long zip ties and quickly secured the arms and legs of the figure on the floor. Nana, Laura, and Maggie scrambled to their feet and straightened their clothes. They were all breathing hard and had anger and fear mixed in their expressions.
“What happened?” Beebop asked Nana after making sure they were uninjured.
“This creature came running down the stairs and into the kitchen. We were investigating the kitchen and he surprised us. I actually hit him with a rolling pin and then we sat on him until you came,” Nana said breathlessly.
“Good job! You are getting good at cracking things over the head!” Beebop said his face alive with admiration. He turned to look at the trussed up figure who was struggling mightily with the zip ties. He pulled the figure to a sitting position and sat back, bemused.
“It looks like we have found us a dwarf. We haven’t seen one of them since we fought the wolves when we first came to Celahir.”
The figure was very short, broad and muscular, and had an incredibly wrinkled face and long white beard. The dwarf stopped struggling and spoke in a deep sonorous voice.
“Free me, and I will show you hidden jewels and gold. You can be rich beyond your dreams.”
“Nice try, but we aren’t interested in riches. We want to know where the owner of this inn might be, though,” Beebop answered.
The dwarf shrugged indifferently and said, “The inn was empty when I arrived. I came simply to see if I could get a meal while I was traveling. When I could not find anyone down here, I went upstairs to look. When you opened the door, I was startled and fled. I was not expecting to be struck with a rolling pin and tied up. I am a peaceful soul on a journey of enlightenment.”
Findecano snorted in derision at the dwarf’s explanation. Nana gripped her blue topaz and concentrated on the dwarf.
As she cleared her mind, images came to her from the stone and, after seeing the images, she broke her concentration and said, “The dwarf, as far as I can tell, is not exactly lying. He isn’t telling the whole truth, though. From what I can see, he is trying to conceal his true purpose here and it seems to be tied to the Drow.”
“The Drow, huh?” Beebop asked. “What could the Drow possibly want at this inn?”
The dwarf looked at Nana with anger – and a bit of fear – in his eyes, and cried, “You are a witch! How can you know my thoughts? My masters will be most upset with you for taking me prisoner. I am a scout that looks for possible resistance to the Drow as they begin to extend their domination over Celahir. I will be happy to report to them that this small village is a pocket of resistance. Perhaps they will pay you a visit.”
“They already have paid us a visit,” Nana said dryly. “At least he seems to be telling the truth this time,” she added. “So, what do we do with him?”
“I think we should leave him tied up and throw him down the well – except that it would spoil the water,” Beebop said unkindly. “It would keep the Drow away for a while longer.”
The dwarf’s eyes bulged at Beebop’s words and he started babbling.
“You cannot do this. I can tell you what my master is planning. I am a key part of the plan, I tell you.”
“Your boasting makes it highly unlikely you are a key to anything,” Findecano said dryly.
“Can I throw him in the well, Beebop? Maybe they can dig another one!” Aidan asked eagerly.
Aidan’s question sent the dwarf into another fit of babbling, so Beebop reached into his pack, pulled out his roll of duct tape, ripped off a piece, and stuck it over the dwarf’s mouth, effectively silencing the tirade. This was the second time he had taped up a dwarf, but at least this time it wasn’t during a battle with wolves.
“Now, what do we really do with him?” Beebop asked everyone. They looked at each other and shrugged.
“Perhaps I can help,” said a voice from the front door of the inn. The group whirled around to find a tall, craggy-faced, blonde man standing in the doorway.
“And you are?” Beebop asked.
“A better question is; who are you and why are you in my inn with a tied up dwarf at your feet?” the man asked as he stepped into the room.
“We have been looking for you. You must be Mr. O’Keefe. We come from Peter McGuigan’s inn. Peter told us to find you. The boy, Dylan, brought us here and we were looking for someone to give us a room and some food. We didn’t find anyone, but we heard a noise from upstairs. We went looking upstairs and found the dwarf in one of the rooms. He ran out and we captured him down here in the kitchen and tied him up,” Beebop explained.
“I do not see a boy anywhere. Who is Dylan?” the innkeeper asked suspiciously.
Beebop looked around the room, but Dylan was nowhere to be found.
“Well, he was here a minute ago. He lives in a small house along the path. He came out after we passed his house and followed us and then offered to show us where the inn was. He must have gotten scared when you surprised us and ran off.”
“The house you speak of, is it the first house you come to if you are arriving from the direction of the sea?”
Beebop nodded and added, “Dylan said his father sells you firewood and game.”
Beebop’s explanation seemed to satisfy the innkeeper. He reached out with his hand and shook Beebop’s hand.
“My name is Seamus O’Keefe. Welcome to the village of Fearn. I am glad to hear you came from Peter’s inn. You must tell me how he and his family fare. We do not see many strangers like you here. We get a few visitors, mostly those headed to the sea, a wandering minstrel or two, but certainly no one dressed as you are.”
“Thank you for welcoming us. We are indeed strangers to Celahir. I am called Beebop. This is my wife Nana, our daughter Laura and her children Aidan and Maggie, and our elven friends Findecano and Luthien. We are seeking a place to stay tonight, a good meal, and some information about this area.”
“I am pleased to meet all of you. I live here and run this inn. I have ample room for you and your companions and I prepare some delicious meals. As for information, I can provide more than most. I would be honored to have you lodge with me for tonight.”
“I thought Dylan said your name was Eamonn O’Keefe, yet you introduced yourself as Seamus,” Findecano said in confusion.
Seamus smiled mysteriously and said, “I will explain later as we eat.”
The companions looked quizzically at Seamus, but did not inquire further about Dylan.
“What are we going to do with the dwarf?” Nana asked, transferring everyone’s attention to the small figure on the floor.
“That pesky little dwarf no doubt told you he was a part of a great plan and he was a key to its success. The truth is that he lives in a hole not far from here and digs hoping to find gold and jewels. He is harmless, but he does tend to come here and try to steal things when I am out and about. I suspect you caught him trying to steal from me again and he tried to run away. I am a bit surprised that you were able to capture him. He is very strong you know.”
Nana bent down and picked up the rolling pin.
“I hit him with this. It stunned him and we sat on him until Beebop and the others came and tied him up,” Nana said blithely.
Seamus laughed and then went over to the dwarf and pulled out a knife. He cut through the ties holding the dwarf and none-to-gently ripped the tape from his mouth. The dwarf cried out in pain as the tape came off, tearing a fair amount of his beard from his face. He jumped up and, with a very nasty look at Beebop and Nana, ran out of the door without a word.
“We seem to have a habit of making dwarves angry with us,” Nana said lightly. Seamus looked at them quizzically this time, but did not say anything.
Instead, he held up the pieces of the zip ties and the duct tape and asked, “What are these things? They were very effective at holding the dwarf captive and quiet.”
“They are things from our world. After we get settled and get something to eat, perhaps we can exchange information,” Beebop answered, returning Seamus’ mystery with one of his own.
Seamus smiled, nodded, and led them upstairs to the rooms. They were kind of spartan, with only beds and a washstand, but they were clean and dry and comfortable. Nana nodded her approval and dropped her pack next to the bed.
“I know I should be getting used to walking so much, but I am tired!” she exclaimed.
“Me too, Nana,” Maggie said. “And Lucy is tired, too!” Maggie added, taking the ferret off her shoulder and stroking its fur.
“Yeah, riding on your shoulder must really wear you and her out,” Aidan teased. Maggie tossed her blonde hair at him and turned her attention back to Lucy.
“Why not take a nap and I will wake you for supper,” Seamus said. They all nodded in agreement and headed off to their rooms for some well-deserved rest.
After a few hours, Seamus came upstairs and awakened his guests. The travelers made their way downstairs and discovered that it was dark outside. Unlike earlier, the tavern room was filled with people eating and drinking. They were laughing loudly and the room was abuzz with conversation – all of which stopped as they walked into the room. Every head turned toward them and some of the guests eyed them with distrust and others with curiosity.
Seamus saw them and hurried over. He led them to a couple of tables in a corner of the room, and then hustled off to the kitchen for food. They were expecting a stew of some sort, since that seemed to be the fare of choice in Celahir, but were pleasantly surprised to see that they could choose between fish, venison, or lamb, fresh vegetables, and water, wine, or beer to drink. Laura was astonished to see Aidan and Maggie both choose lamb. The rest of the room resumed eating, but kept casting curious glances at their party. Their conversations were not as loud or as boisterous as they had been. Beebop and his group ignored the villagers and concentrated on eating the delicious meal that Seamus had provided.
Hunger finally sated, they all sat back from the table and waited for Seamus to join them. They had many questions about the area. They also wanted to know as much as they could about the crone.
Seamus escorted the last of the villagers out of the door, locked it, and sat down at the table with Nana and Beebop.
“So, how can I help you?” Seamus asked without preamble.
“I like someone who gets right to the point,” Nana said appreciatively. “We need to know about an old woman who lives around here. Some might refer to her as a crone or a witch, and we think she is holding Aidan and Maggie’s father captive at the behest of a Dark Elf named Naesse.”
Seamus stared thoughtfully into the embers of the fire for a time and finally answered Nana.
“I know the person of which you speak. She lives not far from here and has been a thorn in this village’s side for many years. She is unpleasant to talk with, and rumor has it that she has many powers that stem from the Dark. She is called Maeva, which means intoxicating in our language. Let me warn you, though, she is not intoxicating in the least.”
“How far away does she live from the village?” Beebop asked eagerly.
“No more than a league or two. You cannot miss her home. It stands next to the road – though it is set back a bit so you can only see the roof. But, she has twisted the bushes into a fence, and those bushes prevent people from entering her land. Should you try to cross them, they will twist around you and hold you in place until Maeva decides to release you. I have been trapped by those bushes and meeting Maeva in person was one of the more unpleasant experiences of my life.”
“Why would you have been trapped by the bushes?” Maggie asked curiously.
“I went there as a younger man on a dare from my friends. I tried to sneak up to her house, but the bushes trapped me. Maeva finally decided to free me after I spent that day and night struggling with the bushes. I must tell you that I was afraid I would perish there. She was mean and spiteful and threatened to turn me into a statue if I ever dared cross her again. I have not dared to try to visit her house since.”
“Tell us more about her Dark powers if you can,” Findecano said.
“I am not sure what is rumor, superstition, and what is true. We do know that she can cast spells – the bushes are proof of that – but what other powers are only rumored. It is said that she has a collection of statues in front of her house that were people at one time. She froze them into statues so she could relish her victory over mere mortal men. Those who displease her greatly are destined to meet that fate,” Seamus shivered a bit as he told them the tale.
“Sounds like a difficult challenge,” Findecano said. “It is even more difficult, I think, than defeating the kelpie.”
Seamus looked shaken at the mention of the kelpie. “What do you know about the kelpie?”
Nana looked at Seamus and saw that his color had drained and he was as pale as a ghost.
“Seamus, are you OK? Did we say something wrong?”
“I had a wife once, many years ago. We were walking beside the river not far from here when she saw the most beautiful horse. Running up to it, she leaped upon it to ride. I screamed for her to stop, but she had jumped on the back of the horrid beast. The kelpie ran into the river, and she was lost.”
“We had to recover one of the missing Elven Bow gems from the kelpie,” Beebop explained.
Seamus stared at him blankly, as though his words did not register. Beebop realized that his words probably did not mean anything to him and that they needed to tell Seamus the whole story. He resigned himself to the retelling of that tale, so he asked Seamus for a refill of drinks for everyone before the tale began. Seamus complied and refilled all of the cups before settling himself in front of the fire and looking expectantly at Beebop and Findecano. Beebop sighed and gestured for Findecano to begin the long arduous story.
After a couple of hours, Seamus was completely up to speed on their journey thus far. He was glad to hear that his cousin, Peter, had been reunited with his wife and that Brendan was no longer a concern for the village on the Island of Man. He was not happy about Beebop returning the bridle to the kelpie, but he understood why Beebop had done it. He also understood why they were pursuing their quest and promised to do what he could to help them along.
“I see now why there has been an increase in stories of Drow wandering through Celahir. The Eastern Forest lies about one hundred leagues from here and there are many elf settlements between here and there. Most of the humans live near here or on the Island of Man, but we do get wandering elf minstrels or traders. Some of the tales they have told will chill you to the bone. But to steal the gems that balance the world between good and evil is a most dangerous thing.”
He paused and searched Beebop’s face.
“I still do not understand exactly why you and your family are involved. You could just stay in your world and let the elves take care of the problem.”
“We have tried that route before,” Beebop answered truthfully. “It seems that fate, or destiny, or whatever, keeps leading us back here. We have resigned ourselves to the fact that our world depends on what we do here. As I have often said, heroes do not plan on being heroes. They are just ordinary people who, in the right circumstances, do extraordinary things.”
“Well said, Beebop,” Findecano said, noting that Aidan, Maggie, and Nana were yawning. “Now it is very late and we need to get started on our way tomorrow. We will bid you a good night and head to our beds.”
“Before we go to bed, I want to know what happened to Dylan.” Maggie said sleepily. Lucy, who had been curled up in her lap sleeping, woke at her voice and stared at everyone with her beady ferret eyes.
Seamus looked uncomfortable at the question. He stared off into the distance for a moment and then said, “I do not know where he went.”
Laura saw his discomfort and said, “What are you not telling us, Seamus? It is important that we know as much as we can so we can be successful with this quest and the rescue of my husband.”
Seamus hesitated and then answered, “You see, when you arrived here, I was suspicious because you were so obviously strangers to Celahir. But, when you told me Dylan brought you to my inn, my suspicions were allayed.”
“Why would that have set aside your suspicions?” Nana asked.
“Dylan, well… Dylan has been dead for over one hundred years. He was my grandfather’s youngest brother who died from a terrible plague that swept through our part of Celahir. He only appears to help those who are here to help Celahir or Fearn.”
December 5, 2013
I’m almost through the edits of The Gemstone Chronicles Book Four: The Ruby. To celebrate the ending of the series (although celebrate may be a little inaccurate as I hate to see it end), I would like to share a sneak peek! No cover for it yet, but I plan on releasing the book early in 2014, so kick back, put your feet up, and enjoy the first two chapters!!
The Gemstone Chronicles Book Four: The Ruby
The late fall sunshine filled the windshield of Beebop’s Corvette as he negotiated the curves of the two-lane highway that lead to his mountain home. He was driving a bit faster than normal due to the fact that it was unseasonably warm for late November, and he had the top down on the bright red convertible, and he was alone, and everyone was waiting for him to get back with ice so they could eat Thanksgiving dinner. He pushed the gas pedal a little farther and downshifted around a gentle curve. The road straightened past the curve and he pushed the gas a little harder still. The big V-8 engine responded with a throaty roar and Beebop grinned at the sound. The turn for his property was coming up, so he eased off the accelerator and downshifted anticipating the sharp turn into his long driveway. Despite his joy at driving his car, he was really looking forward to dinner. His daughter and her husband, his grandchildren, his mother and mother-in-law, plus Nana’s grandmother – Aidan and Maggie’s great-great grandmother – had made the trip up from deep South Georgia to join them for this dinner. Added to the crowd was Beebop’s younger brother and his two girls and the spacious home was filled to capacity. Nana was in her element, though, cooking a huge dinner and entertaining guests. Beebop really had only one job and that was to make sure there was plenty of ice. He had forgotten the ice, though, so she had sent him out to remedy that situation. Aidan had jokingly accused him of forgetting the ice on purpose and Beebop had to admit that although it was unplanned, he didn’t mind having to go.
His driveway turned off to the right and he took that turn a bit faster than normal, causing the Corvette to fishtail just a little. He corrected the slide with a flick of the steering wheel, the grin on his face bigger than ever. He loved his car!
He slowed to drive up the driveway, allowing the car to almost coast. As he neared the house, something small and white shot out from the bushes beside the drive and scampered off into the woods on the other side of the pavement. Instinctively, Beebop hit the brakes and screeched to a halt. He stared at the woods where whatever it was had disappeared. Something about the small thing reminded him of something, but he could not quite put his finger on it. Filing the fleeting image away in his mind, he shook his head and drove the remaining distance to his house and pulled into the garage. He grabbed the bags of ice, hit the garage door button to close the door, and made his way out of the garage by the side door and went into the house.
Dinner was an amazing meal – as usual. Nana had cooked two large turkeys, cornbread dressing, sweet potato casserole, baked fruit, homemade cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans, and butterbeans. For dessert, she had made a German chocolate cake – Beebop’s favorite, a pumpkin pie, and a pecan cheesecake pie all served with fresh whipped cream. They sat around the large dining table plus the smaller kitchen table and had just enough room for everyone. They all ate until they could eat no more and then collapsed in the living room to recover from the meal. Beebop groaned when he thought about the amount of dishes to be cleaned up and was ever so grateful that they had decided to put two dishwashers in the kitchen.
After he had digested his dinner for a while and carried on conversations that ranged from politics to nanotechnology and quantum theory – his background in the Navy’s nuclear power program had developed those interests – he excused himself to clean up the kitchen. Aidan wandered in while he was working, looking kind of troubled.
“What’s the matter, Aidan?” Beebop inquired as he tried to fit some extra-large casserole dishes into the dishwasher.
“Beebop, Maggie and I have been seeing some strange things lately,” Aidan answered solemnly.
“Like what kind of strange things? UFOs? Little green men?” Beebop joked, although he knew that Aidan was referring to Celahir.
“This isn’t funny, Beebop.” Aidan didn’t look amused at all. “We have seen some really odd creatures around our house in North Carolina. We were out walking in the woods with Mom and Dad the other day and we saw what looked like a dragon flying across the sky. I would have shrugged it off as imagination, except that Maggie saw it, too, but Mom and Dad didn’t see anything – or so they said. Later, when we were driving home, we had to stop and wait until a huge flock of ravens flew away from the road. We couldn’t see through them there were so many of the birds. It was creepy and Mom was freaking out!”
“I don’t know about the dragon, but the ravens might just have been migrating,” Beebop said lightly. If he was flustered by the idea of a dragon flying across the sky on Earth, he didn’t show it.
“I thought about the birds migrating, too. But, when I looked it up, I found out that ravens don’t migrate. They scared me and now I am worried about what might be happening in Celahir – and here.”
“I know what you mean. I think about our friends there almost every day. But, they haven’t asked for our help and we haven’t had any reason to seek them out, so I have to believe they are doing well in their struggle.” Aidan nodded glumly, clearly still bothered.
“What have your parents said since we came back from our last visit to Celahir?” Beebop asked quietly.
“Not much. Dad has been completely silent about it and Mom just kind of ignores us if we want to talk about it. It’s like they don’t want to believe we really went somewhere else and did the things we did. Most of all, I think they were really scared when Maggie went out and fought the cockatrice all by herself. I know Mom would talk about it if we really pushed it, but since we are home and safe, I think she just wants to forget the whole thing,” Aidan said sourly. “That’s why I think Mom and Dad just ignored the dragon and the ravens.”
“Well, let’s not push things with your parents. They will talk about it when they are ready. I can imagine your dad is the most reluctant to talk about it since he was held captive as a statue the longest. He didn’t have any time to adjust to the fact that another world exists before he was turned into stone. As for our friends in Celahir, they haven’t tried to contact us. If we are meant to go back there, then it will happen. Otherwise, we’ll have done our part and have to be satisfied with our contribution.” He looked at his grandson thoughtfully for a moment and then added, “Do you miss Siobhan?”
Aidan colored slightly at the mention of the beautiful red-haired girl he met during their last trip to Celahir.
“Yes, I do,” Aidan mumbled.
“It’s nothing to be embarrassed about. She was your first real crush, so it’s natural you miss her. I take it you haven’t found another girl at school yet?” Aidan shook his head, wishing that Beebop would talk about something else. Beebop saw his look, smiled, and let the subject drop.
“What else has been going on since you turned fourteen? And, have you and Maggie gotten your Christmas lists put together yet?” Beebop was famous for wanting Christmas lists so that he and Nana could finish their shopping early and could enjoy the holidays without having to rush around for last-minute gifts.
“There isn’t much new going on. I stopped going to kung fu because they won’t let me train for black belt until I turn eighteen. And, no, I haven’t finished my Christmas list and I don’t think Maggie has either. We’ll try to do them while we are here this weekend.”
“Getting back to the odd things you have noticed, though, has there been anything else?”
Aidan thought for a few minutes before answering.
“Not like any other animals or anything, but sometimes I think my teachers are possessed by Naesse or someone evil like that. They give me a lot of homework!” Beebop laughed and clapped Aidan on the shoulder.
“Well, keep your eyes open and your gemstones handy in case they try to cast a spell on you. And remember, homework isn’t evil. It gets you prepared for college.”
Aidan rolled his eyes and said, “Beebop, I am only fourteen. College is like years away!” He shook his head and left the kitchen while Beebop went back to loading the dishwashers.
The others in the family wandered in and out of the kitchen as he worked. He had resigned himself to a couple of hours of cleaning, so having the company – even for short periods – was a welcome diversion from the cleanup. Most of the conversations were innocuous topics like the unusually warm weather, the upcoming Christmas holidays, and things like that. With what Aidan had told him about the dragon and the ravens, he welcomed the distractions.
As he was finishing the cleanup, Maggie wandered in looking for a piece of pie. As she got herself a big slice of the pumpkin pie, she looked up at her grandfather.
“Beebop, did Aidan tell you about the dragon and the ravens?” she asked around a mouthful of pie.
“Yes, he did, sweetheart. I think it’s kind of strange. What do you think about it?” Beebop replied.
“The dragon was cool and I wish we could have been closer so we could have seen it better, but the birds scared me. They just appeared in a big flock while we were driving home and we had to stop the car and wait until they moved on. They also flew really close to the car and a couple actually hit it.”
“Have you noticed any other weird things since you saw the dragon and the birds?”
“Well, my teachers have been really mean and they have been giving me a lot of homework,” Maggie said with a smile.
“You have been talking to your brother again,” Beebop said, laughing. “He said the same thing and I can’t help you anymore with that than I can help him.”
Maggie laughed, too, but and said, “I know, he told me what you said. Seriously, though, I haven’t seen anything else, but I will try to keep a sharp eye out. I know that Naesse has to be planning something. Have you made any plans for us to go back to Celahir?”
“We are not going back to Celahir!” Laura said emphatically as she and Mike came into the kitchen with worried looks on their faces. “We don’t even want to hear the name Celahir.”
“We weren’t talking about going to Celahir. Maggie was just telling me about the ravens that you ran into the other day and how much it scared her. We weren’t talking about returning to Celahir, but Maggie did ask if I thought about our friends there. I do think about them and I don’t apologize for that.” Beebop looked at the two of them with a challenge in his eyes. Laura, much better than Mike, knew that look and decided it was best not to push him.
“Fine. We just wanted to be sure that you weren’t running off there this weekend. We would like to just enjoy the holiday without worrying about that place,” Laura said tartly.
“We have no intention of going back there unless circumstances warrant. We would like to enjoy the holidays, too. I could do that even better if you would give me a Christmas list!” Beebop deftly steered the conversation away from Celahir.
Laura simply rolled her eyes at her father, grabbed Mike by the arm, and left him to finish the kitchen. Maggie, having eaten her piece of pie, left the kitchen, too. Beebop sighed deeply and went back to cleaning up.
He finally finished with the kitchen and looked at this watch.
“Only an hour and a half. Not too bad, if I do say so myself. I’m so glad we added the second dishwasher!” Beebop muttered to himself as he headed back to the living room. There he found almost everyone sleeping. The only ones who were awake were Aidan and Maggie and their cousins who were playing video games. They had turned the volume down so as not to disturb the sleepers but they were competing and they kept getting louder. Beebop repeatedly had to ask them to quiet down, but he might as well have been asking the wind to stop blowing. After a few admonishments which were only momentarily obeyed, he gave up and let them play as loud as they wanted. As he watched them fighting to save the world from a zombie invasion, he settled down into his leather recliner, and soon he had joined the others for a little nap.
Beebop awoke with a start to total silence. He sat up and looked around groggily to find that he was sitting alone in his living room. He got up from the recliner and listened for any noises. He heard nothing at all so he went from room to room looking for his family, but they were nowhere to be found. He started running around the house yelling for them, then burst through the back door screaming their names as he looked frantically for his missing family. Finally, he ran into the garage to find Naesse sitting behind the wheel of his Corvette, a grim evil smile on his face.
“I told you I would see you in December. Remember that and remember that I owe you for many painful conversations with my master.” Naesse laughed harshly and got out of the car. He approached Beebop and struck him with a resounding slap across the face.
“Beebop, wake up!” Nana was lightly slapping his face trying to get him to wake up from his nightmare. She stopped slapping him when he held up his hands.
“I’m awake now. Please stop slapping me!” Beebop said grumpily as he sat up and moodily rubbed his cheek. Nana hadn’t hit him hard, but his cheek was still a little red.
“I’m sorry I was slapping you, but you were yelling and thrashing about and you wouldn’t wake up when I shook you. The children were getting scared – and so was I,” Nana explained, tears forming in her eyes.
“Sorry I scared y’all,” Beebop said gently. “I just ate too much and had a bad dream. There’s nothing to worry about.” Beebop smiled at everyone and pretended to be fine. In his mind, though, he was deeply troubled by his dream. Nana saw his introspective look and promised herself that she would find out about the dream later.
After Beebop’s nightmare, no one was able to go back to sleep and most wanted to snack on the leftovers. They all trooped into the kitchen and raided the refrigerator. Nana also prepared some take home packages for Beebop’s brother John and his girls and for her mother and grandmother for their trip home the following day. They ate while keeping an eye on Beebop and queried him about his dream.
“It was nothing. I had a dream that we were all on a sinking submarine and I couldn’t find any of you to get you out. I was panicking, that’s all, and it was very real to me. Now everyone please stop looking at me like I have lost my mind!”
“But Beebop, we haven’t ever seen you have a nightmare before. If it hadn’t seen so scary, it would have been really funny!” Aidan said with a laugh.
“I’m so glad I can be your source of amusement. Now eat so I can clean up the kitchen again!” Beebop said sarcastically, but with a twinkle in his eyes. Everyone laughed and left him alone while they finished eating.
Later, as they were getting ready for bed, Beebop told Nana about the white streak he had seen crossing the driveway.
“I can’t say for sure, but that white thing looked familiar. If I didn’t know better, I would say it was Lucy, Keeper’s ferret, but that couldn’t be possible, could it?”
“I’ve given up on the idea that anything is impossible. After all, a few months ago, we had no idea that there was any such thing as Celahir, or Light and Dark Elves, or kelpies, or any of the other things we have discovered. And who would believe that our grandchildren could have done the things they have done? Speaking of things they have done, have you noticed that since we discovered Celahir that Aidan and Maggie are much more confident and more focused than before. If nothing else, it has been great for them.”
“Don’t say that around Laura and Mike. They don’t even want to hear the name Celahir or anything about our excursions,” Beebop said with a laugh. Nana rolled her eyes in a very good imitation of Maggie and went to brush her teeth.
“By the way,” Nana said around her toothbrush, “what was your dream really about?” Beebop didn’t even try to deny he had told a little white lie about the dream. He knew that Nana had probably picked up on it, but he hadn’t wanted to share what he really dreamed about at that time. It would have been difficult to explain about Celahir to the rest of the family. His mom and mother-in-law would never have believed it!
“I dreamed that you all were missing and Naesse was sitting in my Corvette. He laughed and said that he would see us in December. Then he slapped me across the face – coincidentally at the same time you did. I’m not sure if I was madder at the dream slap or Naesse sitting in my Corvette!” Nana looked at him in amusement and laughed.
Beebop laughed, too, and then continued, “Seriously, I think the dream might have been caused by Aidan and Maggie’s story about the dragon and the ravens.”
Nana stopped brushing and looked at him curiously – Aidan and Maggie hadn’t told her about those events. Beebop told her what they had told him.
“Well, I guess we will see what happens in a few days when December rolls around. If the dragon and the ravens come, then we will deal with it,” Nana said in a practical tone. “It frightens me a little that you had that dream, but until something happens, I am going to enjoy the weekend with the children and do some shopping. And no, I’m not getting up for Black Friday.”
Beebop laughed and went to check on the children before turning in for the night.
The weekend passed by quickly. Beebop finally got a Christmas list from everyone, and was contentedly plotted his shopping strategy. They spent many hours talking with Pauline, Nana’s grandmother who was about to turn ninety-eight. It was amazing to hear her talk about what she had seen change during her life and it was even more amazing that she was as clear and sharp as ever. They also did a lot of discussion and note taking on family history for both sides of the family so that they could update the family tree they were trying to build.
Finally, though, everyone left for home, and Nana and Beebop had the house to themselves. They decided to go out for dinner since it was still pretty warm and they were tired of turkey and other leftovers. They decided not to take the Corvette, though, and got into Nana’s crossover. Beebop drove and Nana picked out the restaurant. It was a favorite little place they knew and overlooked the Yahoola Creek in Dahlonega, where some of the first gold in North Georgia was found. Beebop occasionally prospected in that creek, though he hadn’t found any gold. They dined in casual comfort and enjoyed the quiet.
Driving home, it was dark and beginning to cloud up. A light rain began to fall just as they reached their driveway. Beebop turned the car into the drive and flicked on the bright lights so they could better through the rain. Ahead of them, standing in the driveway, was a shadowy figure. Beebop slowed immediately, and cautiously inched his way up toward the figure.
“Do you see that?” he asked Nana. Nana nodded, trying to see through the rain. As they neared the figure, it dashed off into the woods. Beebop stopped the car and jumped out, peering through the increasingly heavy rain in a vain attempt to find whoever had been standing in the drive. Unable to identify exactly who or what it was, and now soaked from the rain, Beebop drove quickly up to the garage and pulled the car into its stall. He got out and ushered Nana into the house. He locked the door behind him, set the alarm, went to the gun cabinet, and got his trusty shotgun. He loaded the weapon and set the safety, and then got out a handgun for Nana. He loaded it, too, set the safety, and headed back to the living room where Nana was sitting tensely.
“Here, take this,” he said as he handed the pistol to her. Nana took it wordlessly and set it down on the table next to her.
“Who or what was that thing in the driveway?” Nana asked worriedly.
“If I had to guess based on the size, I’d say it was a troll or an ogre. But, it moved too quickly for either of those – at least the ones I have seen. Although, I do remember when Yul was running from the devil-dogs that he could move pretty fast.” Beebop was referring to the troll they had encountered when they released Findecano, their elf friend, from the chiastolite stone in which he had been imprisoned by two Dark Elves. Yul had been Findecano’s guardian in the stone, placed there by Enelya and Elerosse, the two Dark Elves who stole the four gemstones from the Elven Bow. Those gemstones, along with the four in the Elven Sword, channeled power to the Diamond, which was held by the god of the seas, maintained the balance between good and evil in Celahir – and the barrier between Celahir and the human world. With the theft of the gemstones, the balance was tilting toward evil and the power of the Dark Elves, also known as the Drow, was growing while the power of the Light Elves was waning. The barrier between the worlds was weakening, too, and that allowed people who had the right spell to cross into the other world. That weakness in the barrier, combined with Findecano’s spell knowledge, led them to their first adventure in Celahir. That was where Beebop defeated the kelpie and recovered the first gemstone, the Carnelian. That stone was now in the custody of Keeper. Keeper was another story and a complete mystery to them. There was much more to their previous adventures. They had recovered two more of the missing gemstones, defeated a giant and a cockatrice, but thinking back on all of their escapades was giving Beebop a headache. He decided not to think about them anymore until tomorrow, and tried to focus on what he and Nana had just seen.
“Are you planning on staying up all night and keeping watch, or are the guns just a precaution for now?” Nana asked, bringing Beebop out of his reverie.
“I would like to think that whoever was in the drive has run off. I’m not planning on going out and hunting them down – especially in the rain. But, I think we should keep the guns handy tonight in case someone decides they want to get in the house. I could call the sheriff, I suppose, but since the person didn’t try to get in the house, I doubt they would come out. I can go look in the morning and maybe figure out who was in our driveway.” He strolled through the house clutching the shotgun, looking out of the windows to see if there were any creatures lurking about. He didn’t see any, and returned to the living room to get comfortable.
Nana turned on the television – more for background noise than a desire to watch any of the programs – and got their laptops. They sat in their favorite chairs, guns on the floor next to them. The quiet was undisturbed and, despite the earlier incident, Beebop was soon surfing gemstone sites and Nana was looking at different food blogs and searching for recipe inspiration for her own very successful food blog. They watched the weather and found out that the warm weather was about to be gone, replaced by late fall storms and temperatures. Nana began yawning and it was contagious. Soon both of them were ready to get in the bed. Beebop yawned again, double-checked the alarm, turned off the lights, and headed up the stairs with Nana. Both of them still had their guns and kept them by the bedside in case of unwanted visitors. Of course, Nana thought ruefully, according to Findecano, if the visitors were from Celahir the guns wouldn’t work against them.
They got ready for bed and read for a little while until they couldn’t keep their eyes open. With all of the lights – except his bedside lamp – off, Beebop went around to each of the bedrooms and peered out the windows again, but didn’t see anything suspicious. He finally decided that whoever had been out there was gone, and he just wanted to close his eyes and not dream about Naesse sitting in his beloved Corvette. He climbed back into bed, kissed Nana goodnight, turned off his bedside lamp, and went to sleep.
The next couple of weeks flew by as Nana and Beebop got the house ready for Christmas. Beebop got all of the outside lights put up and hung the wreaths on the windows. He put the candles in the windows and spent the better part of a day putting the lights on the trees. They always had two trees. They had a large tree in the dining room bay window that was the formal tree. In the living room, they had a second tree that they put all of the children’s ornaments on and where Santa always left Aidan and Maggie’s presents. While he was doing his part of the decorating, Nana did the rest of the house. By the time she was finished, the house looked festive and gorgeous.
They also spent considerable time shopping and wrapping presents. By the middle of December, everything was done except for the Christmas candies that Nana made every year. During the two-week stretch, they didn’t find any other signs of visitors, but they kept the alarm on and the guns handy whenever they were home. Beebop wasn’t even troubled by any more dreams about Naesse, but he did check on his Corvette every day.
Finally, Christmas vacation for Aidan and Maggie arrived. As was their tradition, Beebop and Nana were there to pick them up when they got out of school for the holidays. The trip up to North Carolina was slower than usual due to a snowstorm that had moved in the night before. The snow accumulation wasn’t expected to stop traffic, but it did make the roads slick and slowed them down. By the time they arrived at Laura and Mike’s house, snow was beginning to accumulate. They went inside for just a minute to get Laura and then headed off to the school. They spotted their grandchildren walking across the parking lot deeply engaged in conversation with separate groups of friends. Maggie was easy to spot with her long blonde hair flying about in the wind. Aidan was harder to spot, but they picked him out due to his height. He had grown since his fourteenth birthday, and was now as tall as Beebop. The children separated from their friends and started walking together when they saw Nana and Beebop standing next to Nana’s car. Maggie ran toward them waving madly, but Aidan, trying to be cool as befitted his age, sauntered behind her shaking his head. However, once his friends had disappeared, he ran to catch up with his sister. They reached the car about the same time and gave their grandparents a big hug. With the snow falling and the wind blowing, Nana ushered them into the car and they headed for their house. The car was filled with happy chatter as Aidan and Maggie tried to talk over each other in an attempt to tell Nana and Beebop how school was going and about their friends. Laura finally had to tell them to hush and wait until they were on the way to Georgia. They quieted down, knowing they would have plenty of time to tell Nana and Beebop everything on the ride back to their mountain home.
They drove to Laura’s house to pick up the suitcases and a few other essentials for the trip. Beebop did his usual job of playing porter and getting the car packed while Nana looked at the radar on the computer to see what the snow had in store for them. She certainly didn’t like the look of the storm.
“We need to get going so we can beat the storm. It looks like we are going to get blasted later tonight. When do you get off for the holidays?” Nana asked.
“I am off starting Monday, but Mike doesn’t finish up until Tuesday,” Laura answered. “We expect to come next Wednesday and stay through the weekend. That should give us time to get everything ready for Christmas Eve on Thursday. And, you get the children for almost a week before we get there.”
“That sounds good to us. We will make sure everything is ready when y’all get there. Now, we really have to get going. Aidan, Maggie, let’s load up.” The children gave their parents hugs and climbed into the car. Beebop was sitting in the driver’s seat with the engine running and Nana made her way to the passenger side. Beebop let down the window so that everyone could say a last goodbye to Laura and Mike.
“You two be good and mind Nana and Beebop,” Laura told her children. They both nodded distractedly. Aidan was getting his portable gaming system running and Maggie was trying to get a movie started on the entertainment system. Laura shook her head but smiled at them.
“They are always good when they visit. Besides, with Santa Claus watching, I’m sure they will be on their best behavior,” Beebop said happily.
“And please try to keep them away from Celahir. I’m afraid of that place,” Laura said pleadingly in a low voice that only Beebop could hear.
“We don’t have plans to visit there. We plan on having a nice quiet Christmas holiday. Now quit worrying and let us get going before we get stranded by the snow,” Beebop said soothingly.
He hugged her through the open window, told Mike goodbye, shook his hand, and wished them both a cheery Merry Christmas. He let up the window and backed out of the drive. Everyone waved at Laura and Mike as they stood on the porch and watched the car roll away into the swirling snowflakes. Unseen by any of them, a raven watched the car roll away, too. Once it was lost in the snow, the raven flew off, flying high above the car but following it as it navigated the slick roads on its way back to Georgia.
Inside the car, Maggie and Aidan took turns telling their grandparents about the latest things going on in their lives. Maggie was getting interested in jewelry making and Aidan was becoming a very good saxophone player.
“Do you have any gemstones that I could make into jewelry, Beebop?” Maggie asked. “I’m getting pretty good with wire work and I brought some of my supplies along with me, so if you have a stone or two, I could make something really cool. Maybe I can make Mom a necklace for Christmas.”
“I’m sure I have something at home you can work with. If not, maybe we can go rock hunting while you are here.” Beebop looked out his window at the snow and added, “Assuming, of course, that it warms up some, and we aren’t snowed in.”
“Speaking of snow, the weather says we could get up to six inches at home.” Nana was surfing the internet with her smartphone and held it up to show them the radar. On it, they could see the snow moving ever closer to their home and it extended out a long way west into Alabama.
“Wow,” Beebop said. “I will be glad when we get home and off these roads.” As if to emphasize his concern, the car hit a slick patch and fishtailed a little. Beebop eased off the gas and corrected with a flick of his wrist and the car was back on track. He was relieved that the traffic was light, and they still had plenty of daylight left.
Despite the snow and road conditions, they made pretty good time. They stopped to eat and stretch their legs, and then got right back on the road. Again, unseen by the travelers, a flock of ravens eyed them as they walked in and out of the fast food restaurant.
As they got out of the North Carolina mountains, the snow lightened considerably, and they were able to move a little faster. Beebop was glad that they could move along. He wanted to could get home and be off the roads before it started snowing hard there.
They reached the house just before dark and just before the storm reached them. Aidan and Maggie were excited to see all of the Christmas lights on, and couldn’t wait to get inside and see their presents. They got into the garage and unloaded the car. Nana and Maggie went into the house while Aidan and Beebop shouldered the bags and followed them. Beebop detoured to the third garage where he kept his car, and checked on the Corvette. Satisfied it was okay, he headed to the house. As he walked across the snow-covered lawn, he noticed a number of ravens perched in the trees around the house, their black shapes stark against the white of the snow. He had a funny feeling about them, but with the snow and the wind, he shrugged it off and gratefully went into the mudroom.
Nana helped get Maggie unpacked while Beebop helped Aidan, and then they met back in the living room. Beebop built a fire while Nana cooked supper. They ate in the living room so they could be near the fire, listened to the wind howling, and watched as the snow piled up. They finished eating and Beebop did a quick cleanup of the kitchen. He returned to the living room where Aidan and Maggie were inspecting their wrapped presents.
“Do the people in Celahir celebrate Christmas? Not the elves, but the humans like Mr. McGuigan and Siobhan?” Maggie asked, shaking a brightly wrapped box and giving Aidan a sly look. Aidan suddenly became keenly interested in the present he was holding.
“I don’t think so,” Nana said. “Remember that Findecano didn’t even know what we were doing when we said the blessing. I would think if he didn’t know that, then they wouldn’t know about Christmas. What made you think of that?”
“I was just curious. I think about Celahir a lot.” Maggie saw a look of concern cross Nana’s face and added, “I don’t have nightmares like I used to, but I miss our friends there – especially Lucy.” Maggie had a sad little smile on her face.
“We miss them, too,” Nana replied quietly.
“Have you seen any signs that things are happening in Celahir?” Aidan asked to steer the conversation away from any mention of Siobhan.
Nana and Beebop exchanged glances before Beebop said, “Not really. We got a letter some months ago from someone that said, ‘the Ruby awaits – see you in December.’ I thought I saw Lucy run across the driveway and right after Thanksgiving we thought we might have seen a troll or ogre, but nothing else. Why do you ask?”
“Nothing else? That seems like an awful lot! Why didn’t you tell us about the letter?” Aidan exclaimed, giving his grandparents a reproving look. When they didn’t respond, he continued.
“Well, we haven’t seen anything that could be directly tied to Celahir, but we have noticed a lot of ravens everywhere we go. It’s almost like they are watching us.”
“Funny thing about the ravens,” Beebop said. “The trees around the house are full of them. I noticed them when I was coming in from the garage.”
“I don’t like that,” Nana said slowly. “I also don’t know if ravens are allied with the Drow. Historically, ravens are thought to be bearers of ill-tidings and evil. That may be due to their all-black plumage or perhaps because they are carrion eaters. I do remember that they were spies for Brendan, so certainly they could be doing similar work for Naesse,” Nana answered thoughtfully, referring to the giant that was guarding the second stone they had recovered.
Aidan had defeated Brendan, the giant, in a series of challenges using the power of his gemstones to help him. Brendan had captured Aidan and Siobhan, the red-haired daughter of the local innkeeper that Aidan had a huge crush on, during the last challenge and imprisoned them in his castle. There, Aidan and Siobhan had found Caitrin, Siobhan’s mother, who was also a prisoner in the castle. They escaped their prison and made their way to the top floor of the castle where Naesse inadvertently revealed that he had been lying to Brendan about how Caitrin would come to love him if he just kept her around long enough. Brendan and Aidan ended up fighting with Naesse and Dermot, Brendan’s local muscle that he used to keep the villagers in line. Brendan had given Aidan the Amethyst that Enelya and Elerosse had stolen from the Elven Bow, and then grabbed Naesse, Dermot, and the rest of their henchmen and leaped over the castle wall and into the sea below. Brendan hadn’t been able to swim and he perished rather than put Aidan in any additional danger. Naesse had survived the plunge into the sea, but had been conspicuously absent for a long time after.
“Brendan wasn’t all bad – especially at the end. He saved me!” Aidan protested.
“I know,” Nana said soothingly. “In the end, if it hadn’t been for him, you might not be here now. For that, we are forever grateful. But, he did have a history of taking advantage of the villagers.” Aidan nodded, but didn’t like them criticizing Brendan.
“How do you know so much about ravens, Nana?” Maggie asked curiously.
“After Beebop told me about the dragon and the ravens that you and Aidan saw, I looked up ravens on the Internet. I wish I knew why they were around y’all and why they are here now,” Nana answered.
Beebop glanced at his watch and said cheerfully, “Well, I think that is enough about giants and ravens. It’s about time for everyone to get showers and hit the hay. We can talk more about this in the morning. Besides, we have Christmas shopping to do tomorrow.”
Maggie and Aidan grumbled good-naturedly but headed up to their rooms to get ready for bed. Nana went with them, leaving Beebop to turn out the lights and check the alarm.
Beebop darkened the lower level of the house and looked out of the window at the front yard. The snow was still coming down heavily and, in the dim glow of the security light, he could see their tire tracks in the drive quickly becoming covered with new snow. He looked a little more closely and saw footprints – very large footprints – leading away from his house and into the woods. He double-checked the alarm and decided he would sleep with his gun right up under the bed tonight.
The night passed quietly and Beebop slept a lot better than he thought he would. He got up from the bed early, though, and quietly went downstairs leaving Nana and the children sleeping peacefully. The snow had stopped sometime during the night but the clouds were still hanging low threatening more snow. He turned off the alarm, stepped out onto the screened porch, and looked out at the yard. At least six inches of the white stuff blanketed the ground. Here and there he could see footprints of different small animals disturbing the white landscape. He didn’t see any larger footprints on this side of the house. Shivering in the cold, he went back in the house, started a pot of coffee, and went to look out the front windows. As he looked out the window, he heard footsteps behind him and turned to find Aidan.
“What are you looking at Beebop?” Aidan asked sleepily.
“Nothing much, just looking at the snowfall. It looks like we got a pretty good amount. I think it might be snowman time.”
Aidan looked out the window and then asked, “Who walked across the yard? Those are big footprints.” Aidan pointed at the prints that Beebop had noticed the night before. Beebop shook his head.
“I don’t know. I didn’t see anyone when I noticed the footprints last night. But as big as they are, I somehow don’t think they’re human.”
“Let’s go check them out,” Aidan said eagerly.
“Hold your horses. We’ll go after breakfast. Whatever made them isn’t out there right now and I’m hungry. What do you say we whip up some pancakes for Nana and Maggie?” Aidan nodded and they went off to the kitchen to prepare breakfast.
As they were finishing cooking the pancakes, Maggie and Nana wandered down the stairs and into the kitchen. Nana’s eyes lit up when she saw breakfast ready for them. She loved to cook, and loved doing recipes for the blog, but every now and then, she liked it when Beebop cooked for them. He was a fair cook, but it just wasn’t his thing. He could grill the best steak, though, and had even done a guest post on her blog about how he grilled the steaks.
“Can we go out and play in the snow?” Maggie asked around a mouthful of pancakes and sausage.
“Sure. I’ll go out with you after breakfast,” Beebop said.
“What about the footprints in the snow, Beebop?” Aidan asked innocently, not realizing that Beebop hadn’t told Nana about them.
“What footprints are you talking about?” Nana looked at Aidan intensely. Aidan suddenly became very interested in the pancakes on his plate, looked down, and stuffed a forkful into his mouth. With Aidan unable to talk with his mouth full, Nana turned a concerned eye on her husband.
“I was going to tell you after breakfast. There are some huge footprints in the yard. I saw them last night, but didn’t see anyone around, and I didn’t want to worry you. I did put my gun under the bed so I could get to it easily,” Beebop said in a placating tone.
Nana raised an eyebrow at Beebop who, like Aidan, suddenly became very interested in his plate. Nana just stared at him until he looked up from his plate.
“I’m sorry, okay? I really was going to tell you after breakfast. I think they were probably from the figure we saw the other night. That figure hasn’t proven to be dangerous as of yet, so I decided that it probably wouldn’t be dangerous in weather like we had last night. I had planned to investigate it further this morning.” Beebop looked contritely at his wife and gave her a tentative smile.
Despite the fact that she was a little angry with him, she smiled back and let him off the hook.
“Don’t keep things like that from me again. I’m quite capable of handling it,” Nana said sharply. Beebop knew she could handle it and that he should have told her. He also knew better than to say anything else, so he simply nodded and looked down at his plate again. Maggie and Aidan hid smiles behind their napkins, and continued to eat.
After breakfast, Nana cleaned up the kitchen and Beebop and the children put on some warm clothes and coats, gloves, and boots, and headed outside to play in the snow and investigate the footprints. Nana, who had never been a big fan of snow, decided to stay in and do a blog post while they played. She could see them out the window of her office while she worked and saw Aidan and Maggie rolling snow to make the snowman. She couldn’t see Beebop at first, but then he came out of the garage with a couple of old golf clubs – drivers by the look of them. Nana watched Aidan roll a mid-sized snowball into place and then help his sister roll a larger ball onto the first. When they had them arranged, Beebop put the two drivers into the larger snowball with the heads sticking up like feet. He then twisted a scarf around the bottom of the smaller ball and stuck a couple of small fallen limbs in the side for arms. He stood back and admired their handiwork. Aidan and Maggie stared quizzically at the snowman.
“See, he looks like he crashed into a snowbank and got stuck and now his feet are sticking up in the air,” Beebop explained.
Aidan and Maggie laughed at the explanation and then started throwing snowballs at each other. Beebop watched them run around for a few minutes then strolled off nonchalantly to investigate the footprints. He followed them into the woods for a while until the pines got so dense that not much snow had reached the ground. The prints petered out; the soft pine straw masking the passage of whomever had made the prints. Beebop looked around cautiously trying to make sure he wasn’t going to be caught by surprise. He did hear a noise behind him, but when he turned he saw Aidan and Maggie making their way through the trees toward him. He waited for them to join him.
“I really didn’t want you two coming along on this investigation. It might be dangerous,” Beebop said.
“In case you haven’t noticed, we’ve been facing danger ever since we first went to Celahir. We are involved and have earned the right to come along,” Aidan protested quietly.
“Well, let’s be careful then and stay together. Your mother would never forgive me if I let anything happen to you – and I wouldn’t forgive myself, either.” Beebop smiled at his grandchildren and they set off cautiously into the woods.
After a solid hour of searching the woods, they hadn’t found another trace of the footprints or much of anything else. It seemed even the small animals were hunkered down after the snow. The only other living things they saw were a flock of birds that were most likely ravens given the size and the color of the birds. The birds were clustered in the top of some of the bare oaks and poplars that were scattered around Beebop’s property and gave off raucous caws as the humans walked around. Getting cold and ready to be back in the warm house, they gave up the search and headed back. As they neared the house they found a fresh set of footprints heading directly toward the back door. These were normal sized prints, but Beebop was concerned since they weren’t expecting guests and there weren’t any vehicles around. He urged Aidan and Maggie ahead of him and they rushed toward the backdoor that led to the mudroom. Without bothering to wipe their feet, they burst through the back door ready for the worst. Instead, they found Nana sitting at the breakfast bar talking animatedly with a tall slender elf named Findecano.