Kings and Daemons
(The gifted and the cursed, Book 1)
By Marcus Lee
A tale of conquest, dark kings, and daemonic heroes. A spellbinding story that will enchant you with its plot of ambition, love, betrayal, sacrifice and redemption.
Over fifty years have passed since Daleth the seemingly immortal Witch-King and his army conquered the Ember Kingdom.
Now, with the once fertile lands and its enslaved people dying around him, the Witch-King, driven by his insatiable thirst for eternal youth, prepares his forces to march on the prosperous neighbouring Freestates. It will be the beginnings of a conquest that could destroy nations, bringing death and destruction on an unimaginable scale.
Then, when a peasant huntress whose rare gift was concealed from birth is exposed, it sets in motion a chain of events that could alter the destiny of generations to come.
Kings and Daemons is the first book in 'The gifted and the cursed' trilogy.
Taran awoke with a start, feeling strangely refreshed. Light filtered through the trees, and he sat upright. Rakan sat opposite him, smiling.
‘You needed the sleep,’ Rakan said gruffly. ‘You youngsters have no stamina.’
Taran turned his head to see Maya already up, readying a brief breakfast from the last night’s leftovers, and he felt a little disappointed he’d not awoken to find her sleeping next to him. She came over and gave him a large leaf full of meat, fruits and roots.
‘Hey,’ said Rakan. ‘How comes he gets so much this morning?’
Maya scowled down at Taran. ‘I think If he snores like a bear, he should eat like one too.’ But the kind smile in her eyes offset the words. She ruffled Taran’s hair gently as she walked past to give Rakan his breakfast. ‘Don’t worry, there’s plenty for you too. I feel so very safe protected by two of the wildest animals in the forest; a wolf and a bear,’ and she laughed merrily as she sat down to join them.
They ate in silence, although Taran thought, sitting next to Rakan when he ate was hardly silent. How could someone eat so noisily?
‘Right, I’m going to take Taran here as my bodyguard while we get some water,’ announced Maya, and she rose, sweeping up the water skins, leaving Taran to get to his feet quickly to catch up with her.
Taran looked briefly at Rakan.
Rakan smiled back at him. ‘Go on lad. I’ll break camp. You look after the girl.’
Hmmm, thought Taran as he hurried after Maya, ‘bodyguard,’ and liked the sound of the title. As Maya led him swiftly up and down small inclines through the trees, what amazed Taran was Maya’s unerring sense of direction. She moved through woodland, that to Taran looked the same in every direction, with confidence and purpose as though she’d travelled this way a hundred times before. However, as time passed, Taran briefly considered whether she was lost; but any doubts fled when they crested a small rocky rise.
There below them was a spring-fed pool with water trickling down a rock face, to gather in the hollow below. It was a large pool that no doubt had once provided life to many of the woodland animals.
‘Oh my,’ exclaimed Taran, holding his nose. The water was now green with slime as were the rocks, and the smell of wet wood, the foul water, and rotting vegetation was overwhelming. Taran stood a little shocked, then realised Maya must be testing him. ‘We can’t drink this. I’m no woodsman, but this will make us sick if not kill us. We’d be better off just eating berries than taking a sip of this. Now, where is the drinking water that you found, is it nearby?’
Maya laughed, and Taran thought it sounded like sweet music as she turned to him. ‘Taran,’ she said, and leaned in close, taking his arm. ‘Do you trust me?’
Taran paused, thinking for a moment, not wanting to give a glib answer, yet realised with surprise that despite hardly knowing Maya, he did trust her. Without even knowing why at the time, he’d opened up, voicing all the painful secrets locked away inside, and then she’d reciprocated. Something was growing between them, and he wanted it to grow more.
‘Well, do you?’ she prompted, a little frown of impatience at his delay caused a small furrow of grime to appear between her eyes.
Taran nodded, and was relieved to see the furrow, even if not the grime disappear.
‘Well then,’ Maya said, smiling again. ‘Close your eyes and promise not to open them until I say so.’
‘I promise,’ agreed Taran, doing as instructed, and reached out a hand to steady himself against a tree.
He barely heard Maya as she moved away and was tempted to peek. Yet a promise was a promise, and Taran knew in his heart that he never wanted to break one with Maya, so he carefully lowered himself to the ground, eyes closed.
Maya was a consummate hunter, and if it weren’t for her gentle humming and soft singing, he wouldn’t have known she was mere steps away, such was the softness of her tread. Her musical voice lulled him, and the smell of the decay that had seemed sickly sweet now seemed a heady perfume instead, and he found himself drift toward sleep.
‘Are you seriously snoring?’ asked Maya, a hint of annoyance in her voice.
Taran just caught himself from opening his eyes and shook his head. ‘No. Sleeping, me, never. Not while I’m guarding your body!’
Maya’s voice and breath were suddenly close to his ear, and it tickled softly. ‘Well then, as you are not asleep my prince, open your eyes and see.’
Taran opened his eyes, closed them, and opened them again. ‘Truly you are gifted by the gods to have such a power,’ he said, then stood slowly, gazing down at the scene below.
The foul-smelling pool was now pure and clear, no sign of corruption whatsoever. The water trickling down the rocks sparkled like crystal even in the dim light, over vibrant moss which had white flowers sprinkled throughout. All around the banks of the pool, grass now grew, and healthy bushes with verdant leaves flourished everywhere. Even the tree upon which he’d leaned stood firm, and the scent of freshness filled the air to replace the smell of decay.
‘Now, be a good bodyguard and help fill the skins!’ Maya laughed, as she tossed some to him, and they both moved down to the water’s edge.
Taran knelt next to Maya as they held the skins under the surface. As Taran filled the last one, he held up a hand.
Maya looked at him, enquiringly. ‘What’s wrong?’
‘The smell of decay is back.’ Taran cupped some water in his hand and brought it to his face and sniffed. ‘Something smells very wrong.’
A worried look crossed Maya’s face. ‘Really?’ she asked, and bent forward to scoop some water in her hand.
As she did, Taran leaned over, placed his hand between her shoulder blades and pushed her into the pool. She came up spluttering and screeching in indignation.
‘Now,’ said Taran, sniffing the air. ‘That’s a little better. But it’s going to take more than a small dip to get you clean,’ and reaching forward, he put his hand on Maya’s head, and gently pushed down.
‘Don’t you dare!’ she laughed, reaching up to push his hand away, but suddenly she grabbed his arm instead, and pulled him in.
As he came up coughing out water, Maya sniffed the air. ‘Now, that’s a lot better!’ and they both laughed as they splashed one another.
‘Oh my,’ said Maya. ‘It’s been so long since I was clean, and you too by the looks of it. Let’s clean up.’ She reached to the bank and pulled two small plants from the soil and gave one to Taran.
‘What am I supposed to do with this?’ asked Taran, wondering if he should eat it, then started to put it in his mouth.
Maya laughed. ‘Don’t eat it. Now watch.’ With that, she broke the stem and squeezed, so that the pulp oozed into the palm of her hand. She put the rest of the plant on a rock, then rubbed her hands together, producing a sweet-smelling lather that she scrubbed onto her face. She splashed water over herself shortly after, then dropped her hands. ‘See?’
Taran recoiled in horror. ‘What have you done to yourself!’
Maya’s hands swept up to her face, questing. ‘What do you mean?’ she asked, worried.
‘You’ve made a clean spot.’ Taran winked. ‘Now you’re now going to have to work on the rest. Maybe you’ll freshen up quite nicely given a lot of work.’
Maya wrinkled her nose at him, and carried on scrubbing, as Taran started to follow suit.
As they washed, she watched Taran out of the corner of her eye and had to admit to herself that she liked him a lot. She’d never been friends with a boy in her village, or anyone at all for that matter, staying far removed in case anyone discovered her gift. Yet here they were, sharing a cleansing, and she felt something was growing between them.
He wasn’t the best looking man she’d ever laid eyes on, but his humour, his voice, his kindness, and not forgetting the fact he’d been about to die for her, created feelings she’d never previously experienced.
She watched as Taran pulled his shirt over his head. Now there was another reason to like him, those broad shoulders and muscular arms.
Taran started to wash his shirt, and Maya realised that if she just washed herself, she would still smell.
‘Time to guard my body while looking in the other direction,’ she commanded, then ushered him to do an about-face. She took off her top, enjoying the feel of the cool water lapping against her bare flesh, then hesitated a moment before slipping out of her leggings. She turned her back on Taran as he started doing the same.
They washed fast then, and Maya sighed as she realised they needed to hurry. After putting her wet clothes back on with difficulty, she turned around to see Taran already clothed with a silly smile on his face. Maya felt her face burn bright red. ‘How long were you looking?’ she demanded, her eyes flashing.
Taran laughed, ‘For about as long as a piece of twine, maybe short, maybe long. What is it about women that they take so long to wash?’
‘Yooooou!’ hissed Maya, splashing Taran.
Taran reached out with his hands gently taking her shoulders. ‘Do you trust me?’ he asked.
Maya laughed, recognising her own words. ‘Let me think. Do I trust the man who pushed me headfirst into a pool, and who sneaked a look behind my back? I’m not sure!’
She saw the beginnings of hurt in his eyes and decided not to tease him anymore, not just now anyway. ‘Yes, I trust you.’
‘Well then, turn around and close your eyes,’ said Taran. ‘Don’t open them until I tell you to.’
Maya turned around in the water, and Taran’s strong hands encouraged her to lean back against him. She lay her head back on his chest and felt his heart beating powerfully.
Taran’s voice was soft and close to her ear as he said. ‘You seemed to have washed almost everywhere, and I do mean everywhere because I checked, but you forgot to wash your hair.’
With that, she felt his fingers start to massage the fragrant pulp carefully into her scalp. Had her eyes been open at that stage, they would have closed anyway, for the feeling was so soothing that she wanted to purr like a cat.
As Taran washed her hair, he told her a tale from his youth. The sound of his voice, the rhythm of his hands, the fragrance of the plant all relaxed her so much that she slipped into a light sleep. A short time later, Maya opened her eyes to see Taran’s face looking down on her.
‘If I snore like a bear,’ he said, eyes twinkling, ‘then, you snuffle like a piglet.’
‘A piglet!’ Maya exclaimed in indignation. ‘A piglet?’
Taran nodded. ‘I don’t know if you realise this, but I rather like piglets.’
Maya found herself unable to meet Taran’s gaze. ‘I rather like bears too,’ she whispered.
Maya stood up, turning slowly in Taran’s arms. They were so close that their noses almost touched, and she could feel his warm sweet breath on her face.
His hands moved to the back of her neck as he looked into her eyes, and Maya felt her insides flutter as if suddenly filled with a thousand butterflies. She leaned forward on tiptoes, and her lips found his, her eyes closed, as she wished the moment would last forever.
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Kings and Daemons
Hi there, good to meet you all. I’m Marcus Lee, author of Kings and Daemons, the first in ‘The gifted and the cursed’ trilogy.
This is no doubt where I should have a real picture of me, or tell you how old I am, what my cat's name is etc. Instead, for now, I shall remain mysterious to those who don't know me. For those who do, I'm probably still mysterious.
Writing hasn't always been a serious hobby for me ... but it has always been there, lurking in the shadows, serving me well when called upon.
As I look back over the years, I realise I was guilty of writing many short stories, as well as poetry, and I'd like to think, that even if they were never intended to be published, they were nonetheless warmly received by the intended recipients.
Then in 2019, I was inspired to write not just a short story, or poetry, but a book. Then, suddenly, one book turned into a trilogy and a labour of love, and it was a love I wanted to share with the world.
So, here we are. The pandemic that put my career in sport on hold also gave me the opportunity to lavish time on my alternative hobby, or if demand dictates my new career.
However, only you, the reader, will decide whether this trilogy, which is still a work in progress, will be the first of many. I genuinely hope so.
Who knows, now these creatives juices are flowing, I might just keep on writing anyway.
Epic fantasy has been my favourite genre since I first read The Odyssey and The Illiad as a seven-year-old. Now it's my turn to see if I can bring another world to life in the imagination of others.
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